Kids+Creativity Network members Aileen Owens and Norton Guskyrecently returned from Scratch@MIT 2012, the third biennial conference where educators, researchers, developers, and other members of the worldwide Scratch community gathered on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts to share their experiences and imagine the possibilities of Scratch.

Reflecting on his experiences, Norton posted an in depth report on his blog Technology and Educational Innovation.


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.

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.

You can read the rest of Norton’s post on his website, Technology and Educational Innovation.