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CSEdWeek 2011 Feature Story | A Parent’s Perspective: An Interview with PK Shiu of Park Street School Scratch Club

In this feature story for CSEdWeek 2011, we interviewed PK Shiu about creating an after-school Scratch Club at his sons' school in Boston, MA.

For PK Shiu, starting an after-school Scratch Club presented an opportunity to introduce Scratch to young kids, especially his own two children, ages five and six. “I thought that kindergarten was probably too young, both in age and literacy skills, so we left it open to see who would come.”

A software engineer, PK identifies himself as “more of a parent volunteer” than a teacher. “This has been an experiment for me, this whole Scratch thing.” To get started, PK partnered with a science teacher at his sons’ school. “For elementary school, the graphical user interface (GUI) of Scratch is a big draw. Basically you understand the blocks if you can see the verbs and nouns so it doesn’t require high reading skills, and it comes with a lot of digital assets that are appropriate for younger kids. We sent a letter to all the parents saying we have Scratch and we got amazingly good reception, so we added another after school club offering at the school and were immediately full with children. We got an incredibly high number of first graders at the beginning. Now we have 16 kids spread across grades one to five.”

To prepare for his upcoming teaching role, PK introduced Scratch to his son who was five years old at the time. “He was my guinea pig at home. Knowing that I was going to do this after-school club, I deliberately helped him much less than I would have so I could learn from his thinking process.” PK maintains that minimal-structure approach with his students. “I have tried to help them as little as I can since the beginning. It’s good when I see them thinking.” 

PK believes that children learn through the process of trial and error and that Scratch allows them to develop new ways of problem-solving. Pointing to an instance when students were learning about sprites and costumes, PK recalls, “Using different sprites as costumes is sometimes really hard to do, but I didn’t tell the kids that. Some kids went ahead and created the sprites but didn’t have them overlay properly. Then a third grader called me over and pointed out how the sprites had to be lined up spatially. It’s great to see them clarify the problem in the first place. In business, when IT people have a problem, they understand the problem first and then search for solutions, so basically these eight and nine year olds understand that.”

PK is a parent interested in seeing his own children learn new things and explore the unfamiliar, and he has the same goals for his Scratch Club students and their parents. “One thing I’ve been doing is to keep a blog about the club, and then I email the link out to parents. Hopefully it gets them interested in what their kids are doing.”

Click on the image to watch footage captured by PK of students demonstrating their projects created using Scratch and the LEGO WeDo Robotics Kit.

Now, in the second year of Park Street School Scratch Club, several students from last year have returned to develop new programming skills in creating new projects of their own, as well as help out with the new students. PK plans to try to support Scratch club students to use Scratch for their science class project in the hopes that Scratch will be integrated more with classroom curriculum.