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Creative Computing and Literacy at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

 

“Are we making games today?”

“Yes.”

“I knew it!”

 

Charlotte turns to the class, speaking both in English and American Sign Language (ASL): “Everyone please go to Scratch and log into your account.” As the students sit around the table logging into their accounts, Charlotte places an assortment of Scratch Coding Cards on the table with ideas to explore in Scratch and details about how to build the code. One student reaches for one that says “Make Music,” and another for the one that says “Create a Story.”

Students in Charlotte’s class have been adding music to their Scratch projects, taking inspiration from Scratch Coding Cards.
 

Charlotte has been the Technology Teacher at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (HMS) for 11 years. Located in Allston, Massachusetts, HMS is the oldest public school in the country for students who are deaf and hard of hearing. While many schools for the deaf focus only on English language instruction, HMS is a bilingual school where students learn in American Sign Language and English concurrently. In Charlotte’s classroom, Scratch is a central component to developing language skills in addition to programming skills. “Every student I see will use Scratch,” she says. “It’s not easy—because you can do complex things––but it’s one that they pick up very quickly.”

The Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is located in Allston, MA, a neighborhood of Boston.
 

While existing research points to the benefits of learning to program, Charlotte has found that learning to code with Scratch and similar programs also helps develop literacy skills for the deaf and hard-of-hearing students in her classes. Millner and Huang (2013) suggest that learning to program could be a bridge to language learning for deaf and hard-of-hearing students by connecting written and spoken language learning.

Scratch offers Charlotte’s students a platform for exploration, communication, and expression. She says this is especially important at HMS because many of her students are born to hearing adults who do not know American Sign Language. At HMS, developing skills in communication and self-expression in both ASL and English are central to the curriculum, and Scratch offers a platform for that to happen.

Sitting in the desk next to Matt, Mario is making a game on Scratch with dinosaurs, and wants to add a volcano to the landscape. “How can I do a triangle so it will look like a volcano?”, he asks. Charlotte scrolls the mouse over the paint button. “What do you think?” she asks as she fills the screen with a triangle in three quick swipes of the mouse. “No, it’s too big!” Mario said, erasing the lines and drawing his own. Several iterations later, he turns to Matt and says, “Can I show you something?” By making a game in Scratch, Mario is exploring his interests, sharing, asking for feedback from his teacher and peers, and revising his work.


Technology teacher Charlotte Corbett working with a student on a Scratch project.

“I used to be a stand-up-in-front-of-the-room type of person,” Charlotte tells me, “but I’m not anymore. I’m much more: Here you go, try this. What do you think you can do with that?” She also encourages this type of questioning and dialogue between her students and with other Scratch users. Matt has been trying to play an audio recording in his Scratch project but hasn’t been able to make it work. “Why isn’t it working?”, he asks. “Let’s look at the script.”

Students in Charlotte’s classes have built on their interest in programming through Scratch and by studying design. Two recent students have studied game design and animation at Boston Arts Academy and Bunker Hill Community College. “It all starts with Scratch Cat,” she says with a smile.

Charlotte also utilizes to the ScratchEd network for resources and connection-building with other educators. Through a ScratchEd Meetup, Charlotte met another local Scratch teacher at a school for the deaf, and notes the value of this community of educators. Her openness and dedication to sharing with and learning from other Scratch educators mirrors her dedication to creative exploration and communication in her students.

As her students are packing up, Charlotte offers a final bit of advice for her students while they’re exploring on their own: “Go onto Scratch, find someone who does something similar, and look at the code. Everything you need to know is in the world of Scratch.”

 

Resources to Check Out:

  • Click here to view Millner and Huang’s article about Scratch in Charlotte’s classroom
  • A Middle School Scratch Syllabus that Charlotte designed and shared on the ScratchEd Resources page
  • Want to know more about the creative computing some of Charlotte’s older students are doing? Check out this stop motion video about Mars, or this voting app in American Sign Language, Chinese Sign Language, English, and Spanish, which won the 2016 Congressional App Challenge
  • Check out the ScratchEd Meetups page to find a Meetup near you!
  • Join us for a #ScratchEdChat on Twitter on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of every month from 7-8pm EST.
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