How I Use It
For about five years, I used Scratch at The Computer Clubhouse I ran and students primarily made video games. A critique I've heard of Scratch is that it appeals more to boys than girls, but that wasn't exclusively my experience: at the Clubhouse youth made dozens of games over the years and often without much intervention from me. As it was a pretty new tool at the time, I saw it first appeal primarily to advanced learners (at both my site and others) and they excelled with it. Now working at a church on the West Side of Chicago, I've pioneered a new location-based use with under-served and low literacy learners and seen the tool really excel at helping youth build new knowledge. It's also appealed to both many artists and scientists in my life, both young and old. I have seen some youth become disengaged when tasks get harder but I believe this is based more on work ethic than faults of the tool. I've also started using Scratch in special workshops with a Makey Makey board (a keyboard interrupter using simple circuits between common conductive items like fruit) and found it, again, appealing to a diverse array of learners. There's no doubt that my more recent work has benefited from the years in which I -- and the youth around me -- explored the tool and learned how to use it, but isn't the best learning a result of such passion?
The beauty, elegance and power of Scratch not only influences my teaching virtually everyday, it has influenced my entire view of technology and my view of art. Growing up I was always intrigued by the programming my father did, but it seemed like an impossible world for me to grasp. As I did worse and worse in math courses (and to a lesser extent in science), I was sure I would never really have that command... then I found Scratch. (Okay, I'm a little biased because I trained with the Media Lab as they were developing the Beta versions.) Since then I've used Scratch almost everyday for the past six years at many different venues and with many different learners and I've seen it succeed in so many ways: Scratch is not just another website with information -- maybe prettied up a little -- for youth: it is a construction environment where youth pursue a real goal and thus find a need to learn math and other concepts that never seemed important. There is little I would do differently on Scratch: there are improvements in 2.0 but it only seems to effect more advanced users (such as the ability to define variables based on the input of a camera). In my teaching, Scratch is wonderfully versatile but it is important for a teacher to lay out goals for students: much of the tool's power can go unused unless students are encouraged to "explore." The interface empowers choice though so students are not "forced" to learn commands, but want to learn these commands to reach the end of a goal that they've set. Some of my favorite Scratch projects (all resulting from simple prompts) included a simple spinning animation made by a young woman learning English, a complex, five stage, all original "scrolling" video game made by a young man interested in game design and an app to switch between different potential hair colors made by a young woman interested in dying her hair. There is a little bit of a leap from this visual programming introduction to actual coding but I've never seen anything better to not only spark interest in programming but math, English and many more facets of learning.