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Creative Computing: A CS4HS Workshop

Earlier in 2009, our research group at the MIT Media Lab was invited by Google to join the CS4HS network and offer a workshop to support high school computer science teachers. Because Scratch is also suitable for audiences younger than high school and subject areas beyond computer science, we decided to expand the scope and develop a workshop for K-12 teachers who support technology studies. In our workshop, titled Creative Computing, we invited teachers to join us at the Media Lab to explore new educational technologies and instructional strategies to engage students in creative design activities – and, in the process, help students develop as computational thinkers and computational creators.

We received more than 70 applications and invited 18 people to attend the three-day workshop in which they participated in a series of design and creation activities for exploring computational ideas. We began with a framing talk by Mitch Resnick, director of the Scratch team. In the talk, Mitch described his experiences as a computational creator, and the concepts and skills cultivated by computational creation.

The rest of the workshop was organized around four genres: art/music, stories, sensing, and games. Each session featured a guest lecturer, followed by hands-on experiences with Scratch. In art/music, we were visited by Media Lab faculty member David Small and then experimented with creating interactive musical bands with Scratch. In stories, we were visited by author Stephanie Gayle, who guided us through a series of writing activities that prepared us for a collaborative storytelling activity with Scratch. In sensing, Media Lab faculty member Leah Buechley shared her work around democratizing technology and electronics and we experimented with the physical world by playing with the PicoBoard and Scratch. Finally, in games, MIT faculty member Eric Klopfer shared the latest in educational games research, which set the stage for designing our own games with Scratch.

We asked participants to complete a feedback form. All respondents reported enjoying the event, particularly the time dedicated to hands-on experiences with Scratch, the diversity of the presenters, and the overall organization of the event. We also asked them more specifically about the genre-based format of the workshop (arts, stories, sensing, games). Many appreciated the variety, inspiration, and exposure to new ideas that this format provided.

When asked what they didn't enjoy, most responded that they couldn't think of anything, although several responded that they wanted more hands-on time with Scratch or more time overall.

When asked for suggestions for possible future events, many wished for a follow-up workshop next year. Other suggestions included establishing channels for ongoing conversation, scheduling more hands-on time, and offering workshop certificates or course credits.

Overall, it was a positive experience for the teachers. In the written feedback and the closing discussion, three themes emerged: 

1. The teachers felt that they had been treated respectfully.

"Teachers usually do not get treated in the wonderful way that you treated us!"

"I enjoyed the opportunity to be treated as an adult and a professional. You sent a clear message that you believed what we did was important. We teachers never hear that."

2. The teachers saw it as a practical and inspiring professional development opportunity.

"I was thrilled at being able to take a peek into the inner workings of what I consider to be ground zero for cutting edge, state-of-the-art technology, the MIT Media Lab. Touring the lab and seeing, firsthand, different visions, philosophies and interpretations of the application of technology was inspiring and very exciting." 

"I walked away with many practical tools. Teachers need the summer to recharge and you have definitely done that."

3. Many teachers saw the workshop as being directly relevant to their practices and as having significant potential for their students.

"My mind is still buzzing with the possibilities for the upcoming school year and my students..."

"I'm still so excited about the entire workshop that to anyone asking, ‘What did you do over summer vacation?' I immediately smile enthusiastically and start telling them all about the Creative Computing workshop and all the fun we had in Scratch. My students are going to love it in September!"

Thanks to everyone who participated – we look forward to the possibility of doing it again next year!