July 21, 2014

Scratch Helps Children Learn Basic Computer Coding

By Rob Klindt, Contributing Writer | Literacy Resources

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) classes are among the fastest-growing disciplines in today’s K-12 classrooms. Education in these areas is essential for students joining the workforce in jobs that increasingly rely on technology and innovation.

Computer programming and coding is one of the skills most in demand by tech employers. These workers write code that computers can follow to run software programs created by software developers and engineers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for people who can code is expected to grow about 8 percent annually through 2022.

One of the best tools for introducing students to coding is Scratch, a simple programming language developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. It’s designed to teach 8- to 16-year-olds basic object-oriented programming and coding skills.

In a recent TED talk to educators, Mitch Resnick, director of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, said learning to code using Scratch helps students in numerous ways, including:

  • Building self-confidence by learning new skills with practical tools.
  • Developing increased critical thinking, foresight and logic skills.
  • Improving their ability to think creatively and systematically.
  • Increasing collaboration through the design and creation process.

How it works

Scratch is a free Web-based program that lets students create animated logos, art projects, games and even music videos using simple animated building blocks.

To code a program, students link the blocks together in specific ways to manipulate a simple two-dimensional image called a sprite. Blocks can be arranged to trigger animated loops, create variables, initiate interactivity, play sounds and more.

Sprite includes a library of basic images, backgrounds and sounds that beginners can use to create projects. Experienced users can upload their own images, photos and backgrounds created with a digital camera. They also can record and upload their own videos and sounds into their Scratch project.

Students’ Scratch projects have included:

  • Animated stories
  • Interactive greeting cards
  • Opinion polls
  • Trigonometry tutorials
  • Virtual construction kits

Projects can be saved and shared with other Scratch users on the website. They also can be shared with classmates, teachers, parents or friends by email or on social networks like Pinterest, Twitter or Facebook.

Online community for teachers

ScratchEd, a section of the Scratch website set aside for educators, is an online community where teachers can connect with each other to swap stories, lesson plans and other resources. More than 7,500 educators from around the world have joined the site, which includes dozens of discussion boards. Free; registration is required. Visit ScratchEd

Tech details

PC and Mac users: The Scratch website and its tools can be accessed anywhere an Internet connection is available. The latest version, Scratch 2.0, requires Chrome 7, Firefox 4, or Internet Explorer 7 or later browsers, and Adobe Flash Player 10.2 or later. The program is designed to support screen sizes 1024 x 768 or larger. Free; registration is required. Visit the Scratch website

Offline editor: Scratch 2.0 also has an offline editor allowing people to work on projects without an Internet connection. The download works on PCs running Windows, Mac OS and some versions of Linux and requires users to have the latest version of Adobe Air installed. The offline editor includes starter projects and support materials. Free; registration is required. The Scratch 2.0 Offline Editor

Rob Klindt’s “App Reviews” combine his passion for writing with an ever-growing interest in educational technology. His simple, straightforward approach to reviewing educational apps help educators and parents leverage new tools for students in and out of the classroom.

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