Create Your World – Scratch @MIT 2012

Poster for Scratch 2012 @MIT

What would education look like if every day was a day in kindergarten? The folks at the MIT Media Lab who brought you Lego Logo think that programming, collaborating, and sharing are the keys for future learning. The tool to reach this vision is the programming language, Scratch. For four days my colleague,  Aileen Owens, the Director of Technology and Innovation for the South Fayette School District, and I tinkered and talked Scratch with folks from around the globe.

Day 1: Making Multimedia products

Aileen and I went two different directions. I had never worked with Scratch, so I headed to a “Getting Started with Scratch” workshop. The three hour workshop introduced Scratch by asking people to play with different elements.

Key to Scratch learning were three elements:

  • Think creatively
  • Reason systematically
  • Work collaboratively

The three graduate students at MIT leading my session modeled a digital story-telling project and asked each of us to come up with our own ideas. I thought a minute and decided to create a story based on a neighborhood reunion I  helped to organize last year. I had a number of digital images on my computer that I knew would work well for background stages.  I also had an avatar that I had created with middle school students that would be the main character. In an hour I assembled my production. I wanted to make my story interactive, so I learned how to build a conditional statement. I added sounds to my images. Scratch proved to be easy and fun way to build a multimedia product.

Aileen and her colleagues planning their project

Aileen had used Scratch with her middle school program. Aileen has been developing a K-12 set of computational skills. She found a great fit for Scratch in her middle school art department. She co-taught a class with one of her art teachers. For this conference Aileen wanted to learn more about some advanced features of Scratch. Aileen attended a Rube Goldberg style workshop, “Physical-Digital Chain Reaction; WeDo and Scratch.” Aileen learned an amazing lesson – you don’t need to speak English to collaborate with Scratch. Aileen partnered with three Japanese students and through gestures and a common goal found a way to create their part of the project. Aileen stated, “Scratch allows kids as well as adults to play and learn together.”

DAY 2.

Mitch Resnick and Karen Brennan setting the tone for the conference

The keynote speakers, Mitch Resnick and Karen Brennan, the two key Scratch folks at the MIT Media Lab, gave an excellent overview of the last five years of the project and where the project is headed. For the first breakout session I attended an Ignite session. This is a new concept whereby each presenter has five minutes and no more than 20 slides to share their information. Each of the “Igniters” were teachers who participated in a special project this past year looking at a more structured approach to using Scratch in the classroom. Originally, the Scratch team thought kids would learn the programming language without any guidance. They realized that this does not fit the structure of schools. So, they developed a flexible curriculum with lessons. The keys coming from the teachers:

  • Be flexible, adapt curriculum to your students and time you have available;
  • Encourage students to use as many resources as possible to get “unstuck” => use students in class to help each other;
  • Walk around the room, have fun, and let the kids teach the teacher as well as the other students.

At lunch Aileen and I joined one of her colleagues, Kristin,  from the previous day who was a graphic designer and then became a high school art teacher. We had a great conversation on the role of design. The Scratch folks (and me) see design thinking as the key to learning. Scratch provides a tool to address creativity, problem-solving, and learning persistence. All of these skills are key to design thinking. In the past I talked about these skills with LUMA, the design team in Pittsburgh, but they focus on human-centered design. Kristin explained, from her point of view, Scratch allows for more imaginative design worlds. Scratchers are not limited by a real world. They can create their own worlds.

In the afternoon I went to a session that looked at “Kinect2Scratch.” Stephen Howell, a computer scientist from Ireland, created a tool that links Scratch and Microsoft’s Kinect device. Stephen gave a brief presentation of how this gestural connection works and then turned over the stage to a team from Japan who used his tool to teach a group of young woman how to program using Scratch. The Japanese team had attempted to teach Scratch to students in pairs in the past, but ran into a problem. When they switched to Kinect2Scratch they discovered that this environment lent itself to collaboration and greater communication.

Young scratcher at Poster Session

The final activity for the day allowed us to interact with a variety of projects from around the globe in poster sessions. I discovered a teacher project that the University of California at Berkeley has available. Through a National Science Foundation grant Brian Harvey and his team will travel around the country to train teachers in groups of at least 15 using a version of Scratch that they developed for adult learners. Aileen connected with some of the Japanese students and their teacher with whom she had worked the day before. They demonstrated their Scratch projects which included an English-Japanese translator. The penetration of Scratch in Japan is incredible. According the lead teacher one out of every five students in Japan has some exposure to Scratch.

Day 3

Connie Yowell from the MacArthur Foundation, and Jan Curry, a Program Officer for the National Science Foundation, shared their Keynote thoughts with Mitchell Resnick, Professor of Learning Research at the MIT Media Lab. The conversation covered many key issues in education today – how to provide more engaging learning opportunities and spaces and how to build an educated civic minded work force that understands the role of computation.

Jan shared her concern about the decline in computer science in K-12, especially at the high school level.  According to Jan only 19% of high school student ever take a computer science related course. This is much less than any other Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM) related field. For young woman the number is much less. What can be done? Jan and her team at the National Science Foundation (NSF) have developed a program, CS 10K, that hopes to add 10,000 schools by 2016. Key to the program are two new courses that showcase computational thinking across disciplines.

The NSF project taps into the research by Eric Jolly. He has identified three key conditions for student success:

  1. Engagement
  2. Capacity-building
  3. Life-connections

Connie Yowell highlighted the Digital Media and Learning Initiatives that the MacArthur Fundation. The $100,000,000 project targets a broader framework. The project looks at what makes “Connected Learning.” How do informal learning institutions develop learning environments that provide multiple entryways with multiple pathways for successful learning? Connie highlighted her personal connection through her son to Scratch and how Scratch is a model for what the MacArthur Foundation is promoting. Scratch provides an application and a community for connected learning. Scratch builds upon the learner’s imagination, desire to tinker, share, and reflect. Key to this spiral process is the personalized element of the project. Each learner chooses their own path.

Following the Keynote dialog I enjoyed another Ignite round of talks. The six presenting teams covered a gamut of topics including:

  • the use of Scratch with kindergarten children in Mexico,
  • a personal tale of developing an after-school Scratch club in Boston,
  • the impact of Scratch on autistic children,
  • engaging middle school students with Scratch
  • using Scratch to meet the needs of all learners

Mitch Resnick leading the conversation on Scratch 2.0

I spent the afternoon learning more about Scratch 2.0, the latest version due for release at the end of 2012. The design team for Scratch – John Maloney, Brian Silverman, Paula Bonita, Natalie Rusk, joined Mitch Resnick for a conversation on the key issues relating to the audience, purpose, and process behind the new version. The group spoke to the challenge of keeping Scratch “simple” yet adding new tools to make more powerful. In the 2.0 version users will be able to define “procedures.” While this makes the language more modular, it creates a challenge with the goal of sharing code. The team also debated the issue of “Evolution versus Revolution.” Mitch Resnick highlighted the goal to allow all previous projects to work with the new version. This limited the scope of change. For instance: Flash will be the underlying platform. This keeps all iPad users out of the Scratch community. The team discussed Scratch as a tool for tinkering versus formal planning. Underlying Scratch is the idea of playing with ideas, objects, or code. Tinkering for its own sake is not enough. Tinkering needs a purpose and a sense of growth. Planning  should be an informal rather than a formal element. The new version maintains this basic premise.

In addition to procedures the new version includes a tool for “cloning.” Mitch Resnick shared a Johnny Appleseed example where seedlings can become trees without using multiple sprites. The new version incorporates gestural elements using the built-in cameras in new devices. The most radical change is a move to cloud-based computing. All of the scripts can be saved online allowing for the sharing of data. This works well for polls and multi-user games where scores can be saved and compared.

Day 4: End of Conference

Ramapo students, teachers, and administrators

It’s only fitting that a conference about making learning more like kindergarten would end with presentations by kids and educators. A team of teachers, administrators, and students from Ramapo School District in New Jersey shared their experiences and success using Scratch as part of a third-grade STEM program. Ramapo adoped an engineering strategy for all STEM activities and Scratch provided a strong computational fit. The iterative process included: ask -> imagine -> plan -> create -> invent ->

The district used the Creative Computing Curricular Guide developed in 2011 by the Scratch Team. The guide provides open-ended activities using three dimensions:

  • Concepts – sequence & loops / parallelism and events / conditionals and operations / data
  • Practices – being iterative and incremental / testing and debugging / reusing and remixing / abstracting and modularizing
  • Perspectives – expressing / connecting / questioning

The students shared their projects and the educators provided stories and reflections about the student work. All of the students shared great enthusiasm for Scratch and intended to continue to use Scratch even though it’s not part of the curriculum in other grades at this time. (The assistant superintendent, Judy Barbera, reported that there’s conversation about incorporating Scratch next year into another STEM unit.) Each student explained how they worked out a problem, debugged, remixed, or created a unique solution. It was obvious that everything we’ve heard about Scratch as a great tool for project-based learning was in evidence in Ramapo.

After the keynote I headed for a hands-on opportunity to use Scratch as a tool for global conversation. A team from Japan shared their project that grew out of the last Scratch conference two years ago, “Creating World Museum: Expanding Our Passions.” The project brings together students from around the world to converse about themselves and their cultures. What makes this project unique is the intention to insert computational computing into the process. While many projects have students collaborate and learn about each other through dialog, graphics, or photographs, the World Museum challenges students to develop a Scratch program to make this happen. Students need to collaborate by adding the necessary code to make the global dialogue happen.

In the workshop we modeled the process that the students employed. We created a Scratch script to share one reflection from our experience at the conference. I imported an avatar I created last year working with Middle School students at the South Fayette School District and then imported a background – the Frank Gehry design for the MIT Computer Science Department.

Then the six participants at my table assembled their scripts into one folder that was then uploaded to the World Museum site. Soon we had a dynamic presentation that included three other teams with their reflections.

Next we had to build a story based on our reflections. I suggested that we use the conference poster as our background and add the Scratch cat as the interviewer. The team  agreed with my concept and soon we had our project underway. It was wonderful to work as a collaborative team and see our ideas come together.

While we working the Japanese team filmed the process and created an iMovie to document the experience. This session truly demonstrated the role of connecting to people, ideas, and interests – the key issues for the conference.

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