Friday, November 30, 2012

Logo Programming with Scratch - Let your students construct!

Let me start off with this caveat - Scratch is not a "sec" thing - it's more like a half an hour thing in terms of the initial prep.  With that said, I'll start singing the praises of this little program: it's fun, it will help your students construct and think in ways that make you want to sing, it's engaging, students become immersed in it, you will look at them in whole new ways!

Scratch is a program that lets your students learn to write simulations, interactives, and games in a programming language called Logo.  I'm using the word "write" pretty loosely here, because they don't actually write anything, they build the language with Lego-like blocks that control motion, looks, sound, sensing, operators, and variables.  If that all sounds a little too complicated for your students, let me assure you, it's not!  Kids take to Scratch so intuitively it's amazing! 

How to get started:

1. First go to the Scratch MIT website and download the Scratch installer - it's a quick download and doesn't take up much space - works on OS X and Windows.

2. Second, use a quick tutorial - here are a couple I like.  Spend about 30 minutes going through them just to familiarize yourself with what Scratch is all about. You only need to learn a couple of basic things to do this. The first time I used Scratch with students I did not do this - I literally knew nothing about how the program worked - I just knew what it could do, and it worked out great. But that's how I roll, and I understand not everyone loves those kinds of classroom risks like I do - so I've included the suggestion for the tutorials.  Let me assure you, you do not need to be the expert!

3. Have your students download Scratch, download and give them the "Getting Started" guide or the video tutorials on the same page, or direct them to these tutorials, stand back and let them go!

A couple of important things you need to do:
       *Let them play with it
       *Don't interfere and hover, but do pay close attention to the conversations
       *Encourage them to seek help from eachother
       *Identify the "experts" as they emerge - encourage other students to see what they are doing
       *Offer up ideas for games - mazes, races, puzzles, etc. are fun easy activities to start with

How can you use this in your classroom?

Scratch initially is all about the language, critical thinking, and constructing.  However, once your students get more familiar with it, encourage them to build quizzes, simulations, and interactives that go with what you are studying in class - things that can help others learn important ideas and concepts about the content.  I have had geography students build games, quizzes and interactives that led people to discover Egyptian tombs, navigate the Strait of Magellan in a boat, climb to the top of a ziggurat in Mesopotamia, and navigate the important plot points on the island in Lord of the Flies.

The very best thing about Scratch is how it will make your students think and collaborate.  You will have to step back and give up your "expert on all things" title, and watch the amazing things they will do!

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