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Pilot Perspectives: Reflections on the Scratch Curriculum Guide by Russell Clough of O’Donnell Middle 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: Russell D. Clough
School: O’Donnell Middle School

Location: Stoughton, MA

Guide Usage: 45-Day Unit (January – April 2012)

Late in the 2010-2011 academic year, our school decided that we would make a change in our basic schedule. For years, we had an “Activity Period”. Early in my career, teachers would opt to run, not really a class, but more of a supervised learning experience. This might include outdoor physical games (e.g. street hockey), indoor board games (e.g. chess/checkers), Life Skills (e.g. cooking, shop, etc.), and the like. As the years went on, fewer and fewer teachers volunteered to conduct an activity and the period devolved into, with a few exceptions, a study period. Our administrators felt that, since this period did not provide any time on learning, it should be replaced. They came up with a series of Pathways classes. Teachers could volunteer to develop curriculum for a new course and teach it as one of their five contracted teaching periods. Up to this point, as the school’s Technology Trainer, I had no regularly scheduled classes. I was tasked with helping teachers incorporate technology into their curriculum. However, to make the new schedule work, I was asked to teach two Pathways classes.

Having seen a posting for summer workshops on Scratch & StarLogo TNG at MIT, I decided to see what it was all about. I spent about a week at MIT and, as it turns out, these programs fit nicely into our/my plans. I chose to teach both programs to my group of sixth graders, beginning with Scratch. Each class meets for 45 consecutive days (1 school term) and has had between 9 and 15 students in each session. The request to apply for a curriculum pilot position came at the perfect time. I had, with my first group, started developing my own but I thought, “What better opportunity than to teach Scratch using guidelines from the same folks that developed the program?” The rest is history.

Of all the sessions, one that the kids seemed more enthusiastic about was Session #10 in which we design a maze game. Perhaps it is the familiarity they all have with video games or the interactive nature of this project, but most, if not all, kids had fun with this one.

We started the session, as we did with most, by responding to the journal prompt, followed by a discussion. We talked about what the basic parts of a game (video or otherwise) are and how we might address them in Scratch. The curriculum guide suggests doing this in small groups. However, since most of my classes are small to begin with, we discussed the topic as a whole.

Step by step, I took them through the development of the maze game. On top of the SMARTBoard, I can broadcast my screen to theirs. In this way, they had to watch what I was doing and, if not participate, at least listen to the discussions of why we did what we did. Once I had shown them a few steps, I released their screens and they recreated what I had done, with their own personal touches. We followed this procedure until the basic maze was complete.

I don’t know if it is the age group I teach, but I could not complete this session in one class period. The kids were very much “into” the project and were disappointed when we had to stop for the day.

The questions were the best part. You could tell they were thinking all the time. They wanted to know if they could do this or how they could do that, which worked nicely into the next session (Maze Extensions).

Overall, the students liked every phase of the curriculum. With the sixth graders, I felt I needed more time to complete just about everything. This could be due to their level of development. They knew what they wanted to do, but it took a while for them to make the mental leap from blocks (codes) to how they could use them. With this in mind, I think my kids would have gotten a bit more out of direct instruction instead of the exploration method the curriculum uses. 

One of the things I struggled with was how to assess the kids. Since most of the projects let them explore a particular genre on their own, I had to develop some more definitive requirements on which they would be graded.

I believe the guide does a great job introducing the software to students while covering, in broad strokes, the variety of applications that can be addressed by the software. I am teaching a computer class. If I were a Math, Science, Social Studies, English, etc. teacher, I would try to pick out the part(s) of the guide that work best for me and address the scope and sequence of my curriculum. Although I do not think that everything needs to be graded, if you plan on assessing their work, I would include in the sessions a discussion of what you see the final project/program looking like. Finally, remember, it is a guide. Be flexible. Use those parts that work well for you and the group(s) you teach and adapt those that need a little “tweaking.”

Check out student projects!