Scratch – how low can you go?

How low can you go? Well, in the words of MC Wildski, I think it was, ‘the lower you go, the more you show you know.’ He may have been talking about bass frequency, but I think it’s equally applicable to teaching coding via Scratch in a Primary setting.

They said I was mad teaching Scratch in Year 3 – well, perhaps they just said I was mad. Anyway, I’ve been teaching it in Year 2 for the last couple of weeks, initially in a classroom that had 2 available computers with Scratch installed (whereas in my Year 3 setting I had a suite of iMacs). How did it go? Rather swimmingly, actually.

the first children to write up and draw a successful game were rewarded with design time on the interactive whiteboard

As I’ve said before, whole-class Scratch teaching on the Interactive Whiteboard is surprisingly effective. You can get different children up to the board, and they love manipulating HUGE Lego blocks of code. Today I introduced variables – we added a score to our simple game, and set them the challenge of working out how to set the score back to 0 at the start of the game. Put the code in the wrong place, and the score is perpetually set to 0 – a great exercise in thinking and debugging. Each time I got a different child up to the board, trying a different solution. They loved it.

And then drawing. The interactive whiteboard is the best darn graphics tablet you could wish for. So much better than drawing with a mouse or – eek! – trackpad.

Lack of resources was a problem last week – I gave the class an A3 game design sheet to fill in: stage, sprites, a written description of the game. (At this point I had precisely 2 laptops with Scratch installed, and the battery died on one of them mid-lesson). And with half an hour of the lesson to go, most of them had finished. What to do? I set a new challenge. Mini-plenary. We are a games company. We have limited resources. Get into your pairs and prepare a PITCH to convince the class that YOUR game should go into production. They loved it. Children came to the front and told the rest of the class about their game designs, and got feedback and questions from their classmates.

Today, with the help of a very hard-working colleague, I managed to have about 8 working Scratch-enabled laptops in class, so half the class could start getting hands-on with Scratch, while the others did another paper-based activity fleshing out the character of their game’s main, er, character. The boy with the Mario T-shirt was a useful prop to talk about what makes us want to play games in the first place – why is it that Nintendo games are so enduringly popular?

I’d love to fill my classroom with Raspberry Pis, of course. I might try and sneak one in next week – my Kano one seems a good candidate. But I’m going to have to bring my own monitor; I can’t find a single one in school with an HDMI socket. Unless someone has 3 HDMI monitors they can lend me…

Next steps? If I can get them all at least getting the main sprite to move when the green flag is clicked, I’ll be happy. Some may do more. I’ll try to upload their code to the Scratch web site, so they can see their work at home – keep it, look at the code – and who knows, maybe remix it!

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