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My First Scratch Class

At the end of last year (2009) we, as in parents, were told that our children entering the fourth or fifth grade were going to need laptops.  So, we purchased, like everyone else, the laptop the school was offering (an Acer Aspire One, linked below).  At about the same time, quite by accident, I discovered the Scratch programming environment.  After a bit of playing around myself, I got my eldest son (soon to be eight) using it at home.  He seemed to really enjoy it and so I booked an appointment with the school's Principal and went to give a demonstration.  I took along print outs of some of the briefs on the Scratch website.  Turns out I didn't even need them.  The Principal got excited the moment I showed him the small demonstration programme.  So, we agreed to start something the next school year (2010) and now we're here.

A couple Tuesdays ago I ran the introduction/demonstration class where I asked all interested children, with laptops, to turn up and see if they were interested in coming back for proper lessons.  I opened by showing my simple Invaders game and to make it even better, I played it with a Logitech joypad (using JoyTail).  I gave a quick demonstration and talk about the LEGO brick coding and talked about using the the webcam, microphone and paint picture editor for creating sounds and sprites.  I then opened the floor up for questions.  There were certainly plenty.  I expected to get my son and a few of his friends.  Instead I got more than 30 kids and every one of them wanted to know something about Scratch.  There weren't even enough desks in the classroom!  So, after such a great response it was decided to start the real class the following Tuesday.

Last Tuesday was the first "official" lesson.  I was surprised to see about 30 kids in the class again, with a whole bunch on the floor again.  There just isn't enough room for the interest.  So, I ran my class following the outline in the attached PDF, Scratch Lesson 1: Welcome to Scratch.  I took it slowly and stepped through each part of the script which built from simply saying "Hello, world" all the way to asking a question and building a response.  The most important thing I was trying to convey in this lesson was to start small and simple and build to get bigger and more complex, a concept I think Scratch makes easy to visualise.  It is too easy to make simple, hard to find errors when you jump in at the deep end and try to do everything at once.

It is also important to me that the kids have something to show at the end.  Something that actually does something useful and/or fun.  While the end of the first class might not have seen the kids with their own Space Invaders, it did do something fun with the tools they had been taught.  As we progress and the children get used to working with Scratch the end project will become more entertaining.  Each child also received a printed copy of the PDF so they could reference it later when messing around in their free time or at home.  I found later from some parents that their children found the handouts very helpful when working on their own at home.

Lastly, I try to introduce real terms into each class that relate to the work at hand.  I think that this will set them up to easily understand learning about other languages through classes and textbooks should they eventually head down that road.

Overall the class went quite well.  The kids were quite hyped up as they are very excited about Scratch and some were expecting to write a game that moment.  However, this is all to be expected.  I remember when I first wanted to play guitar.  I expected to play it the moment I picked it up.  It was the same for me when I started getting interested in computers.

I'm really looking forward to tomorrow's lesson.  We will be working with a Magic 8 Ball programme to learn about random numbers, variables and lists.  I will post that and all following classes here also, as time permits.

Other Files: 
Comments
Member

I'd guess that the reason the term "variable" is used is because, from the Scratch script perspective, it really is a "variable", especially in the "Scratch vocabulary" sense.  But, as you point out, from the user's point of view, it is a read-only sort of thing.  These different points of view can be the source of enlightenment or confusion.  Though, of course, these sorts of things show up in other parts of life.  There is a time that you are "writing" a play and everything is open.  There is a time when you are "performing" a play and trying to stick to the script.

 

One of the things I find exciting about Scratch is that some students quickly become really interested in concepts they might not otherwise encounter until later, such as my second and third graders (and now even a kindergartner) wanting to understand Cartesian coordinates with signed numbers, even.  There are also many concepts of geometry that are there for those that wish to use them.

 

Students just dart in.  As one piece of evidence, a fifth grader excitedly wanted to show me what he was doing with "var-I'-a-bles" (long I) since the last class.  He had discovered them himself and no verbal learning was involved.  Hmmm.  Sometimes I am just tempted to let it go with his pronunciation.

 

Bruce

Member

I have a minor quibble with your "Scratch Beginner" handout:  ANSWER is not

really a variable, even though it can be displayed like one on the stage.  It's a

reporter, more like +.  I say this because you can't SET it.

 

I'm not saying you have to introduce the word "reporter" in talking about ANSWER.

I just think it would be best not to use the word "variable" either.  I'd say something

like "you can use the ANSWER block to..." and leave it at that.

 

Thanks for posting it!

Member

I agree with you completely.  In the strictest sense, it's not a variable.  I was more interested in putting it into terms that the kids would get, easily.  By describing it as a variable I believe I am setting them up to understand that you can drop regular variables into the same places.

Thanks for your comment.  I'll keep your point in mind.

Tim.

Member

Thanks for your beginner lesson from me too!

I am in the process of planning a course for homeschooled kids. I'm a homeschool mom myself, but a former software engineer. I used to work in 3D animation, and I've fogotten what it's like to be a beginner! I think I was aiming too high for my first lesson.

Member

Thanks.  I too forgot what it was like.  In writing my second lesson (soon to be posted) I realised that and what was meant to be one lesson ended up lasting four :-)   I realised this as I was fleshing out all the points for the handout.  However, it was too far gone to back out.  It ended up going reasonably well though.

Tim.

Member

 The Scratch can set the language into simplified Chinese. But I think some translation is not right. 

For example, the operator "join A  B", the result is "AB" . When in Chinese it appears"将  A  加入到  B  的后面", seems the result should be "BA" when indeed the result is "AB". This is not right. I think the translation should be something like "将 A 放到 B 前面", or just "联合 A 和 B".

Member

This is not something I could answer, but have you tried posting this question in one of the discussion forums?

Tim.

Member

It can be exciting and gratifying to see the excitement that Scratch can generate.  I have witnessed it time and time again.  You said:  " I gave a quick demonstration and talk about the LEGO brick coding and talked about using the the webcam, microphone and paint picture editor for creating sounds and sprites."  I think that is a big part of it.  There is such a scope and variety in what you can do with Scratch and it appeals to art and music interests as well as computers and robotics.

 

I've been teaching Scratch to grades two through five and just last week I decided to open it up to some of the Kindergarten and first grade students.  Of course there is a big range in subject matter and complexity between what the various students do, but the point is to keep everyone engaged, interested and learning.

 

It was especially interesting to me to hear about the connections between students, parents, teachers and the principal in your school.  I'm hoping to have a Scratch night for parents and maybe a Scratch early morning for teachers.  Your game is catchy as well.

 

Bruce (near Boston)

Member

Thanks for your feedback. Variety was exactly the word I was looking for.  There is such a range of ways that the children can express themselves.  When teaching the class, I often find that the children who have managed to copy the work from the SMARTboard often fiddle with sprites and make their own backgrounds, using the picture editor and their webcams, while waiting for the others.

What age do children enter Kindergarten in Massachusetts?  Here in Western Australia Kindergarten and Pre-Primary are ages 4 and 5.

If you do end up having a Scratch night for parents, I (as well as others, I'm sure) would really like to read about what you did and the response from attendees.  I would like to do something similar towards the end of the year where parents can come in and see what their children have been doing.

Tim.

Member

Hi. I found your story very useful as I just started teaching my first Scratch class too and am feeling my way around. Thanks for the file on Scratch Beginner 001.pdf.

Enjoy your lessons.

 

Ai Boon

Member

Excellent.  Hope your class is going well.  I'm glad that this was helpful.  I had not really taught anything prior to this and ScratchED had been a great help.

Next week I will have another lesson posted.  Although it is one lesson it ended up being a bit much to cover in the 35 minutes I get for classes, so I had to run over to next week.

Tim.