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CSEdWeek 2011 Feature Story | Creative Approaches: An Interview with Cameron Cross from Ray School

In this feature story for CSEdWeek 2011, we asked Cameron Cross to share his approaches to integrating Scratch with other disciplines.

Cameron Cross has been teaching third grade and acting as the Technology Coordinator at the Ray School in New Hampshire for almost two decades. A history major in college, his longstanding relationship with educational technology spans from his early days teaching Logo, to Microworlds, and now Scratch. Cameron currently works with first through sixth graders, infusing creative Scratch projects with general curriculum concepts. “When you think about it, to make a bird fly across the screen, that’s really a cool thing to do for anyone really, but for a 6, 7, or 8 year old, that’s a really cool thing, and to associate that with learning and mathematics and logic is a big step. They’re getting a connection between higher level thinking and creativity.” During our interview, Cameron talked about some of his strategies for using Scratch in an elementary school setting. Here are a few approaches that he shared with us.

Metaphors for Scratch
From theater to babysitting, Cameron uses real-life metaphors to help his young elementary students understand computational concepts.

“I talk about the sprites as being actors and changing costumes. If you’re going to a play, don’t expect the stage to move. And then thinking of the backgrounds, you have one background for the first scene and then the curtains close and then you change the background.”

“In another metaphor, I talk about the sprites as being very cooperative toddlers. So they’re very willing to do what you tell them to do, but they’re not very good at figuring out stuff on their own, and they don’t know a lot of big words. So like with the finish line and races, you say ‘go to the finish line’ and the toddler runs and keeps on going because they don’t know what a finish line is. You have to tell them to stop when they touch the red line which is the kind of thing you tell a sprite.”

Connecting with Teachers
Cameron views his colleagues as collaborators, looking to them for lesson plan inspiration and feedback on his work.

“I usually consult with the teachers and I’ll say, ‘We’ve got three or four weeks to do a project, do you have an idea about something that might be good?’ Second graders are studying animal tracks, so I think we could do a little animation of an animal and have the tracks follow them. The third graders learned about Haiku, so we had them make a sprite with the text and a background with another sprite in motion. Another animation is a flower growing where you’re changing costumes with sound effects or music or the kids saying their poems.”

“I get the teachers to come with the class and be there with the students and give me feedback. I think it’s a good way to keep the lines of communication open so they know what I’m doing and I know what they’re thinking.”

Students as Ambassadors
Cameron encourages peer teaching to introduce new ideas and concepts. 

“One of the teachers has a nice name for it. She calls the experts as ‘ambassadors.’ So she’ll say, ‘We need an ambassador for jumping up and down,’ and then in like 30 minutes everyone knows.”

“It’s not formal. It’s more of a ‘Gee, Sally, you really know how to do the ghost technique, can you help John over here? He wants his stars to fade out of the sky.’ I really encourage the kids to help each other because they’re better at that than I am.”
 

Underlying Cameron’s strategies is the understanding that Scratch is more than just a tool for engagement. “I’d like the students to be creators rather than consumers. I think it’s stimulating the children’s imagination, sense of wonder and discovery. I wish I had something like this. When I went to school, things were pretty prescribed and I would get done with stuff and be sort of bored, so something like this would have been really great for me.”

Comments
Member

 Hi Cameron,

I am an Educational Outreach Coordinator for SparkFun Electronics. I am very excited about the work you are doing with Scratch and PicoBoards and Arduino. We are in the process of compiling an OpenSource Educational Material Library for teachers across the globe. I have done a couple projects, but because I have to work on all levels I don't have as much time as I would like to concentrate on Scratch. I think Scratch is a wonderful stepping stone for teaching programming. Would you be interested in donating documents you use to teach this technology so we can host it, attribute you and give teachers around the world access to your work so they too can teach this technology to 3rd graders?

 

Also- Here are some links to wonderful drag and drop environments that you can use to bridge from Scratch to Arduino: www.modk.it/ and/or blog.minibloq.org/.

 

Hope you find this stuff useful,

-Linz

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