Tag Archives: Scratch

FETC 2017

Code to Learn: Using Scratch to Demonstrate Learning

I’ll be at FETC this week – and will be talking about my hopes and dreams for how to use Scratch. I’ve done a lot of research on coding and creativity and I’m bringing my ideas to FETC (thankfully, my poster was accepted)! I will be discussing the in-depth learning projects I have done with some of my students. I also have a passion for integrating coding into the curriculum and would love to see if other teachers are doing the same (check out my Wright Brothers course).

Creativity in Coding

For the last few years, I have been teaching Scratch during the summer months. Most of the time we do projects related to video games or general learning projects (animations, mazes, etc.). My one-week camps do not leave enough time for in-depth research projects. However, for those returning campers, I am able to challenge them with more advanced Scratch projects. I’ve had students create interactive country projects and create fractured fairy tales. Even though I am not in a K-12 school, I hope teachers will find these ideas (and lesson plans) useful.

After reading articles by Mitch Resnik, Karen Brennan, and Samuel Papert (most well-known for his book, Mindstorms), I felt like they had created Scratch for this very purpose. After a bit, I realized they had. Check out their Scratch foundation.

Regardless, I think our mission is the same – to keep the creativity in coding. To use Scratch (and computers) to create and not just to consume. For the record, I am not affiliated with MIT or Scratch, nor do they endorse this poster session (though, I hope they would if they knew about it)!

If you will be attending FETC this week, I will be talking about my poster session on Wednesday, January 25 from 4:00 – 5:00 PM  – Booth #2500.

UPDATE: To find the Scratch lessons, check out the Scratch Lessons, Challenges & Prompts page.

Create Stories with Scratch

This past summer, I facilitated six classes on MIT’s icon-based programming language, Scratch, and simultaneously helped fifth – ninth graders learn about computer programming. I taught four sessions of “Video Games From Scratch,” and two sessions of “Create From Scratch.” These last two sessions focused on creating conversations and stories with Scratch. I don’t want to be a biased teacher, but these were DEFINITELY my favorite programming classes.

Our class met for eight days; each class was an hour. After a few days of basic concepts (animation, movement), I asked them to create a conversation between sprites. We started with storyboards.

picture of computer with scratch 1.4


Nothing too complicated – just a simple six-panel, hand-drawn storyboard to tell the events of their conversation. There was a lot of resistance to pre-planning. I asked anyway. Most of them complied (probably because they were locked out of their computers until they finished their storyboard).

Their programmed conversations were allowed to veer, twist and change from their original storyboard. The results were interesting and somewhat mixed, but it prepared them for the deeper challenge of recreating a classic fairy tale in Scratch.

pciture of a projected screen with a scratch project

In the computer lab – sharing projects was an important part of the class.

Recreating classic stories with Scratch

When students returned from the weekend break, I asked them to work on their capstone project: a classic fairy tale. Students were free to retell the story, or add an alternate ending, fracture the tale, etc.

My class was a good mix of boys and girls, but both groups willingly accepted the assignment. Some chose to retell the story with a funny ending. Some made silly graphics which altered the story. Some spent a lot of time creating beautiful graphics, but didn’t change the story arc. There was a lot of choice, creativity and fun.

a picture of humpty dumpty stories with scratch

This “Humpty Dumpty” retelling has a funny ending. Created by one of the students in my class – https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/116815328/

Video Games vs. Stories with Scratch

Why was this my favorite class? Well…I am the mother of two boys. I am married to a man. All of the males in my household love to play video games.

I do not.

I know! I feel terrible just writing that sentence, however, I have come to accept and embrace my biases. I like board games and card games. I enjoy learning about history, cognitive psychology and education. I love art and making art. I cannot live without reading books. I enjoy writing, though, not necessarily fictional stories. I love bringing art and writing together – with technology. That’s why I love Scratch and that’s why I loved this “Create” class more than the popular video game class. Hopefully, it left some of the students with a similar feeling – a way to embrace technology that doesn’t revolve solely around video games.

Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids

I’ve missed blogging. It’s been a busy August and I’ve been occupied with other pursuits, but I am ready to get back to writing. (We’ll see if my schedule agrees with me). In the meantime, I wanted to call attention to my new Udemy class, “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids.

Udemy Course: Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids

Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids

I created this course hoping that other teachers (and parents) will find a single starting point with regards to children’s “maker education.” So much of being a maker is a willingness to tinker, to explore and to learn on your own.  However, there’s a lot of information out there and it can be overwhelming.

In this course, I focus on three main areas: simple electronics, sewing and coding using MIT’s icon-based programming language, Scratch. Each section starts with a “take-apart” lesson, followed by some hands-on activities, and includes a follow up for teachers to integrate these lessons into the curriculum. There’s even a link to some of the research being done on maker education.

Simple Electronics

A year ago, I took a course from the Tinkering Studio. It satisfied the “missing link” of my maker education. I’ve been teaching computer programming concepts to elementary and middle school students for a few years, but was a little nervous about dismantling and building with electronics. Thankfully, after a year of tinkering – and acquiring a soldering iron – I now feel more comfortable introducing simple electronics to kids.*

At summer camp, my students used the circuit blocks to learn about electricity (and short circuited batteries by accident). They made marker bots and messed around with design principles. “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids” adds to these projects by introducing a take-apart lesson which is then re-purposed into a sewn LED flashlight. I’ve also included an experiment for conductors and insulators, videos on how to make a simple flashlight, and my favorite way to make circuit art.


Sewing with Kids

I’ve been sewing for many years; it was one of the first things I had to learn completely on my own. I had to design my own curriculum, find mentors, make mistakes and practice deliberately.  This was my first (unknown) foray into the “maker movement.” These days – with kids, work and homemade dinners – I don’t sew nearly as much as I did fifteen years ago.

Instead, I’ve been sewing with my own children. In a Montessori primary curriculum, we introduce sewing at age three. These activities are broken down into steps (stringing, making a knot, sewing with burlap, etc). As my children grow, we continue to sew, but the projects are more advanced. This past summer, I also taught sewing at our local “college for kids” camp.

I think sewing is a key component of maker education and I’m excited that it’s part of the course, “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids.” Hand-sewing topics include: taking apart a t-shirt, making a wristband, making a LED flashlight and incorporating sewing into a classroom.

sewing with kids - learning stitches

With an ink pen, I draw out dashes and dots to teach two simple stitches.

Code to Learn with Scratch

Although I’ve been sewing for a number of years, I came to computer programming and robotics through my oldest son. At the age of six, he said he wanted to be a robot engineer. I set out to find hands-on materials that broke down advanced concepts. I stumbled on Lego Education kits and the icon-based programming language, Scratch. I started a business for others kids who were interested in robotics. For the past three years, I have been teaching classes and hosting summer camps.

Along the way, I noticed that many kids came to Scratch because they loved video games. They wanted to make their own – so we did. But we also created stories, conversations and short animations. While creating these programs, the students were learning programming concepts – without even trying.

In my Udemy course, I demonstrate how to use Scratch, but I focus on simple, creative projects that you can do with your students. For upper elementary and middle school students, the sky is the limit. They can create all sorts of games, animations and stories that can reflect their learning. They can use Scratch as a paintbrush to demonstrate their knowledge. Learning can be creative and fun.

I had a lot of fun creating the course and I learned a lot. About everything. Especially movie editing and breaking down concepts. If you are interested in taking the course – “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids” – use this link for 50% off.

pciture of a projected screen with a scratch project

In the computer lab – sharing projects was an important part of the class.

*With regards to electronics – I still have a lot to learn. My soldering is ugly and I need more practice. As my oldest child takes more of an interest in electronics, we’ll learn this stuff together, but in the meantime, we’re happy to stay at the level of batteries and bulbs.




Animated Volcano in Scratch

kids' drawing of volcano

Drawn by C, age 7. I’m especially fond of the underground magma.

Scratch animation

It’s fairly obvious that I love Scratch, the icon-based programming language developed by MIT.  It’s a fabulous way for kids to dip their toes into learning about computer programming and computer science principles.

I’ve been using it for almost 4 years and each time I mess around with it, I learn something new. In the beginning, we use it creatively – as it was intended to be used. We start with a few blocks and see what we can make. I do some guided learning, but there’s a lot of choice and a focus on enjoying the language.

Then, we start moving into deeper and deeper concepts – variables, sending messages and conditional statements, etc. But, there still has to be an emphasis on being creative, flexible and offering a somewhat open-ended project.

Animated Volcano in Scratch

Typically, the second lesson I demonstrate deals with animation. We choose a background, change it slightly (the color of the lights, add a disappearing item, etc.) and then apply the following program:

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 4.26.10 PM




Many of them get the concept, though they don’t truly understand it until they try to make their own animation. It’s at that point that they realize the slight differences are what truly matters in animation.

That usually works for most of my ten-year-old and up students, but I needed a more thorough explanation for my newly minted seven-year-old. He has been begging (for over a year) to work with Scratch and I finally relented in January.

Storyboarding with Scratch

We did the above background animation, but it still wasn’t quite clicking, so I decided to start with a hand-drawn storyboard process. I went with an animated volcano in Scratch. That leaves a lot of personal choice options, but the key concepts remain the same.

I made a simple example and asked the younger kids to sketch out the various stages of a volcano. They were allowed ample time to view (and stop) my volcano program.



Once the steps were labeled, they set out making a different background (or sprite) with four different scenes – based on what they drew.

C's animated volcano in Scratch

I uploaded C’s volcano animation. Check it out: https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/108661198/

A simple introduction to storyboarding, and a way to keep the ‘creative’ in Scratch, not to mention a quick glimpse into how basic animation works. Creative programming at work!

CS For All

A few days ago, President Obama announced a new initiative to promote computer science classes for all students – CS for All. The proposed funding will be $4 billion for states and $100 million directly to schools to fund this initiative. Apparently, it’s even supported by both parties! It’s a definite nod toward the importance of CS principles and certainly what many organizations, like code.org, have been advocating – and the purpose of ‘Hour of Code‘!

A picture from the book, Help Your Kids with Computer Coding.

A picture from the book, Help Your Kids with Computer Coding.

I’m excited right now to be a tech educator – especially one who focuses on programming and robotics. I’m excited to see the shift to this type of learning, especially for kids who might struggle with traditional, paper-based learning, which is usually the case with reading, writing and math. This will give those right-brain learners something to feel confident about. However, I am waiting to see how these programs will eventually play out.

CS for All

My biggest fear is that CS will become one more subject that students are required to learn – rather than integrating it across the curriculum. For elementary-age students, that doesn’t mean sitting them in front of a computer and teaching them to hard code. It means finding age-appropriate resources, such a Robot Turtles, Ozobots, and Lego WeDo kits (3rd grade and younger) and Scratch, mbots, and Lego Mindstorms (in addition to many others) for upper elementary and middle school.

It also means there needs to be a lot of room for creative free expression and in-depth tinkering. Coding is fun and empowering, but there needs to be a focus on mastery and it must have a personal purpose to it (a la Daniel Pink’s research in Drive). I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. I don’t want the teaching of computer science to be one more thing that a student has to learn.

A mini-project on the country of Greece. Programmed completely by R, age 9.5.

A mini-project on the country of Greece. An interactive presentation, designed and programmed by R, age 9.5.

I want Scratch to be integrated into math and language classes – not separated. I want logic games and math games to be integrated into daily lessons – not just pulled out as a ‘CS’ curriculum. I want students to learn how to make presentations to reflect their learning – whether that’s while learning about Greece, the Wright Brothers or the xy-grid. I want them to have time to explore and tinker, not just to memorize a piece of code.

So, I hope the National Science Foundation will look to the creators of Scratch and to Seymour Papert and base their grant funding on that type of CS teaching – creative expression and tinkering – which will lead to more students choosing computer-science-based careers.