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Creative Computing For All

By Mary Adelaide Brakenridge, ScratchEd intern

How do you think about “for all” in creative computing for all?

We posed this question to our Twitter followers this summer and received many thoughtful replies ( Responders pointed to consideration of all abilities, ages, disciplines, genders, interests, languages, races and ethnicities, and socioeconomic statuses.

At Scratch@MIT in August 2016, a panel discussion moderated by Karen Brennan further explored the idea of creative computing for all.

Panelist Meryl Alper, assistant professor of communication studies at Northeastern University, believes the concept is social, political, and cultural. Society’s inherent divisions result in “in groups” getting institutional preference over “out groups.” Meryl asked who is able to participate in creative computing, and who can even get involved in the conversations about their own participation.

In exploring questions of accessibility, she helped devise proposed additions to Mitch Resnick’s “low floor, wide walls, and high ceilings” design principle used in Scratch. The additions (described in more detail here) are as follows:

-low floors with ramps, in both the physical sense of allowing access to a building and the metaphorical sense of inviting people to approach the floor in the first place

-wide walls with frames of interest, to help narrow the many possibilities offered by the wide walls for those who might be overwhelmed by the choice or prefer a very focused approach

-high ceilings, tall ladders, to serve as the technical and social scaffolds required to move through a platform

-reinforced corners, to consider what additional supports or resources may be needed to support all learners

Looking at the diagram Meryl shared, fellow panelist Nick Giacobbe noted, “I love how it seems to really synergize with how I think as a designer for students with disabilities, thinking about having high expectations but asking individual students what they need to feel successful and to grow.”

Nick is a special education teacher who was named Innovator of the Year for the Chicago Public Schools. When he considers the term “for all,” he thinks of Seymour Papert’s quote from “The Gears of My Childhood”: “What an individual can learn, and how he learns it, depends on what models he has available.” Nick views computing for all as including both formal and informal education, and he believes the design process for both settings must reflect the goal of accessibility.

He gave audience members a look into his classroom, showing video journals from a student who used Scratch and MakeyMakey to create a whimsical flute. For Nick, student curiosity is part of the curriculum. “A very secure and confident administration” at his school gives him the autonomy he needs to experiment. Drawing on the principles of constructionism, he looks for ways to help students become interested and invested in their work.

“What I love about this was that at this point in the process, she’s no longer working for me, no longer trying to earn a grade,” Nick explained after the student’s final video check-in. “It’s about her own passion for the work she does, and I think that’s the magic that’s in constructionism.”

After watching the videos, panelist Rhianon Gutierrez commented, “It’s super exciting that they have this opportunity to be able to create.”

Rhianon is a digital learning specialist in the Boston Public Schools who draws on the framework of Universal Design for Learning ( as her guide in creating learning experiences and technologies for people of all abilities, planning for variability from step one. She explained the primary UDL principles of providing multiple means of representation, multiple means of action and expression, and multiple means of engagement.

For those just getting started, she advises looking at the UDL guidelines, finding a contact who is passionate about UDL and learning from their experiences, and recognizing that making mistakes is inevitable. “A big part of this is that you have to be vulnerable,” she said.

Rhianon sees empathy as a major component of successful design, prompting consideration of who is included in the process and whose needs are being addressed. She encourages designers to involve people with disabilities in the design process, giving them a space to innovate and contribute their unique perspectives. In her words, “Empathy is an important part of fostering equity."

To close the panel, Meryl urged listeners to consider intersectionality and think about “all of the different differences that individuals represent,” while Nick asked educators to seek out opportunities to work with special education students.

Rhianon highlighted the importance of designing for variability from the beginning, rather than trying to retrofit. She pointed out that while the process may be hard, maintaining an openness and a willingness to learn will pay off in the end.

What does “for all” mean to you?