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Pros: Well-designed professional interface and powerful tools provide a fun and effective intro to programming.
Cons: There's not a ton of depth, and more options would add variety.
Bottom Line: With a little adult help, this is a rich platform for getting kids into programming and digital creation.
ScratchJr will work best when kids have lots of guided practice through structured exercises and hands-on support. Although the interface is designed to appeal to younger kids, the program still features a lot of things to click and drag around. So confusion is likely, and getting stuck is easy. But with carefully prepared lessons that walk students step by step through the activities, in an hour or two, they should be able to modify stock programs and even start building their own interactive scenes.
Before using the app, consider doing some off-screen learning around putting steps in order, what each block represents, and how the blocks relate to actual coding languages. If you use shared tablets in your classroom, make sure kids remember which project is theirs since the app doesn't use multiple profiles. The projects are saved locally to the device, but there are sharing options. If you have ELLs who need to access the app in a language other than English, check out the list of supported languages and update the device settings accordingly. And if you notice kids who need a bit more challenge, they can progress to Scratch!
By dragging and dropping graphic sprites across the ScratchJr screen, little programmers can bring simple -- and lightly interactive -- scenes to life. The Lego-like, snap-together commands make the basic programs easy to create. For example, drag a cartoon cat onto a beach scene, and drag a small icon into the programming window to add a movement command. Then just add a "start when touched" command and snap a repeat element onto the move icon, and a tap on the cat sends the cartoon skittering across the screen.
Taking advantage of your device's tactile interface, everything in the program is a tap or swipe away. The entire interface is well-designed to look like toys and art supplies carefully arranged on a desk, so it's easy to engage the title's 5- to 7-year-old target age range. And, although kids left alone can easily get lost in the various options, with a little guidance, they can design, build, and enjoy their very own presentations.
Computer programming can be hard to learn. For younger kids, the idea of writing code is far too much to imagine when they're just beginning to learn to read and write. So ScratchJr's icon-driven interface is a good fit when the goal is introducing kids to programming concepts without all the complex programming. The multiple trays, editors, and input screens take some getting used to, so it's not as simple as handing the program to a classroom of kids. But include a little teacher guidance, and ScratchJr offers a rich and challenging environment for very young programmers. Plus, it's free, and there are teacher resources on the developer's site that can help get you started. At its best, ScratchJr may be most important for teaching a love of digital creation.