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Pilot Perspectives: Reflections on the Scratch Curriculum Guide by Kara Kestner of Sherwood High School

After releasing the Scratch curriculum guide draft in the fall of 2011, the ScratchEd Team was interested to see how the Creative Computing curriculum was being implemented across different settings. We invited ten K-12 educators from across the U.S. to pilot the guide in their classrooms. We asked them to let us know what happened – what worked, and what didn’t. In this special ScratchEd Story series, pilot participants share their experiences and provide feedback about the curriculum guide.

We hope that these vignettes will help illustrate the range of possibilities for using the Scratch curriculum guide in K-12 settings. We encourage anyone who is using the Creative Computing curriculum to share feedback in this discussion forum

Scratch Educator:
Kara Kestner
School: Sherwood High School

Location: Creighton, Missouri
Guide Usage: Five-Week Unit (November 14 – December 14, 2011)

I decided to incorporate the Scratch curriculum into a Business Technology class with the purpose of exposing the 11 students to some basic concepts of programming. Sherwood is a small rural school in the middle of Missouri. Although we are fortunate enough to have two teachers in the Business Department, we do not have any classes specifically for programming. Business Technology is one of our more advanced courses with this particular class consisting of five males and six females, ranging in grade levels from 11th to 12th.

Initially, I was intimidated by the idea of teaching programming to my high school juniors and seniors since I had little to no experience with it myself. The more I thought about preparing students for the future, the more I realized that I couldn’t just teach them a set of applications; because those applications would change or maybe not exist in the future. I came to realize that it was necessary to develop the skills needed to problem solve rather than to teach a particular program. I felt that the logic and reasoning skills that the students would learn through programming were too valuable not to teach. So although programming is not one of the objectives in the Business Technology curriculum, I am teaching Scratch under the objective “Applying Technology to Business Applications”.

Even with little programming experience, the Scratch curriculum was straightforward and fairly easy to use. The Scratch curriculum guide makes programming simple to teach yet keeps the students challenged and inspired.

Session #3 (Programmed to dance) was one of my favorites! It got us up and moving. We really opened up and got to learn about each other. I modified the lesson so that the bossed partner left the room too. Also, I didn’t use the term “bossed”, instead I used “teacher”. To get more students involved, I had two “teacher” students per performing students. One of the two teachers could only use written instruction and the other “teacher” could use only verbal instruction. I had the students who were “teaching” watch the video and take notes while the other students were in the hall. Then I invited the performer from the first group in to the classroom and explained that they were to do exactly as the “teacher” told them, nothing more, nothing less. I had the verbal instructions given first (explaining the moves without physical assistance). With the performer facing away from the screen, I played the video while he/she attempted the moves as they were previously instructed. The “teacher” could not help once the video began to play, just as a programmer would have to stop the program in order to make changes. Next, the written instructions were handed to the performer and the moves attempted again.

This was done for each of the groups and in the end the performers got to watch the video of what the dance was supposed to look like. I also required that the performer tell the “teachers” what would have been good to know in order to perform the dance better. It was surprising that the “teachers” did not mention the beat of the music so that the performers could time out the moves, which I related back to programming as well. I wrapped up the by asking how what we learned today relates to programming, which had to be answered before they left. We learned a lot and had a good laugh too!

Overall, working with the curriculum guide was a great experience. It continuously challenged the students. I especially like that the curriculum incorporated more than just computer related material as in sessions #3, #6, and #9 that effectively taught programming concepts without the computer. The students especially liked session #3 since we were able to get up and move around. For me, at least, this lesson was difficult to facilitate smoothly. I recommend reading and thoroughly understanding as well as envisioning prior to the lesson. I had to do some improvising during the lesson, but we still learned the objective for the day.

One thing I would do differently, at least for my class, would be using a paper journal instead of an online blog. This was more a technical difficulty than a personal preference though. Initially, I had the student set up a blog, make it private, and post about their experiences each day. Because I had them make it private, the other students had trouble reading each others’, even when invites were sent. Another way to do the journaling would be in an online classroom environment where they can comment on each others’ posts. This was not a required or suggested part, I just wanted the students to be able to bounce ideas off of each other and share inspirations.

I was also disappointed that no rubrics were provided. While scoring guides and/or rubrics would be hard to create without limiting the creativity of the project, they would be very beneficial. A simple generic scoring guide that listed the objective of the lesson would suffice. For my purposes, I graded on an incomplete/complete (pass/fail) basis per lesson.

I highly recommend this curriculum as an introduction to programming concepts. It is easy to use and exciting for the students. There are many Scratch resources for both teachers and students. Upon completion of this curriculum it is easy to find enrichment projects. Scratch can be used in any discipline.

The time and energy you will need to commit to preparing each lesson depends on how “fancy” you want the lesson to be. For example, in session #6 a person could have spent multiple hours creating huge puzzle pieces (physical scratch blocks). I did not, on average I spent 30 minutes prepping for the next day’s lesson. I recommend allocating a couple hours to review the entire curriculum and decide upon your journaling technique, which I don’t recommend be skipped.

Do not be intimidated by lack of programming knowledge or experience; I had little to none, yet I worked through this just fine. I did not have the answers to all of the questions and rarely did, but I was able to rely on the Scratch resources and community.

Scratch Project: