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Mentor Mom: An Interview with Chris Garrity about Scratch Club

"Four years ago, I posted a sign-up sheet at the school. I thought I'd have five kids, including my son and a few of his friends. 24 showed up the first day. Within a couple of weeks, we had filled the room and had to ask for the room next door. By the end of the year, there were consistently 30 to 35 kids coming, and the next year we overflowed. It's been that way ever since..."

In 2005, Chris Garrity started Scratch Club, an after-school program at Clarke Middle School in Lexington, MA, after recognizing a growing interest for Scratch among her sons and their friends. Chris laughs while reminiscing about her sons testing beta versions of Scratch at the MIT Media Lab. "I had the two boys and I didn't know what to do with them so I asked if we wanted to try anything out and they got into Scratch." At home, Chris saw Scratch's popularity grow with the community children: "There were people calling and asking, 'Can we come over and please play Scratch?' And I noticed that there was something here." In order to introduce other children to Scratch in a more formal setting, Chris created a Friday after-school program that teaches Scratch to more than 50 middle school students each year.

Luckily, she has some help.

Chris asks previous Scratch Club members to return to teach and mentor younger students. "I now have seven to eight mentors which helps enormously in terms of 45 students asking questions, and so that it's not just me facilitating anymore." This tradition of mentoring started with Chris's older son and his friends, the first generation of Scratch Club graduates and then high school freshmen. Now, Chris must limit the number of returning sophomore Scratch Club veterans in order to allow freshmen mentors the chance to experience giving back through volunteerism and gain community service hours. By collaborating with the local high school and getting Scratch Club pre-approved for community service requirements, Chris is well on her way to achieving her goal of making the Scratch Club a sustainable program. "Hopefully, when I graduate myself out of the club, anyone who takes over can simply use the experience of the mentors to answer questions."

Until then, there is much work for Chris and her mentors. A main issue is catering to students of different ages and programming backgrounds in one class. Chris has devised a two-week introduction for incoming sixth graders. "It seemed as though sixth graders never progressed as far because they missed the introductory learning. They were distracted by seventh and eighth graders' fancy side-scrolling games. Now I get sixth graders early so I can get their attention to learn basics. It's definitely helping a lot and giving them a head start."

Sometimes getting students to pay attention to anything on a Friday afternoon can be challenging. "At the end of the week, they don't want to be lectured. I try to give them a few ideas and let them loose." Chris also often finds that students are "stuck in a rut," unable to initiate new ideas and uninterested in those that Chris offers. Chris's strategy is to use the beginning of class for sharing. She tells them: "It's not a big deal, you only get five minutes, and you can't go any longer. Show a little about your project, what the idea was, and something interesting. What was difficult, what you learned, or anything like that…and then I give them a t-shirt."

Chris also notes the disparity in the female student ratio in her Scratch Club: 30% female at best, a depressing 10% at worst. To even the playing field, Chris encouraged girls to bring their girlfriends with them the following week. She makes sure to reserves spots each year for recruiting girls and other last minute members, but admits it's an ongoing challenge.

With a comprehensive perspective on Scratch that ranges from computer science background and Scratch developer to teacher and mother, Chris is well poised to see possibilities for Scratch. She has rooted a tradition of mentorship and volunteerism in her sons and Scratch Club members by acting as an exemplary role model. Looking to the future, Chris hopes to expand Scratch Club to other schools and incorporate Scratch into the culture of schools. She is reaching out to other middle schools and forging partnerships with elementary school teachers to integrate Scratch into earlier grades.

New generations of Scratchers also bring new challenges. Chris anticipates an ever-widening range of experience levels among new Scratch Club members: no experience, prior knowledge from elementary school, and exposure to Scratch from siblings. Fortunately, Chris views this diversity as a tool for collaborative learning and sharing: "Raise your hand if you've already been doing Scratch. Okay good, then you can help the people next to you."

Chris Garrity

The sessions I have are only 1 hour. It's really just barely long enough so if you can get more time I think that's good. We have the computers for everyone to have their own computers, so that's the way it usually works. For the most part the students work on whatever they want. However, I've been trying to think of ways to get them to think outside the box. I don't have competitions, but earlier in December I split the club into two sections and did a workshop with one section. Here's a description of the Exquisite Corpse workshop and I have a reflection on how it went here on ScratchEd.

I think that getting the kids to show what they've been working on is really important. With only an hour each week, we don't really have time for that. If you have longer I would definitely spend time each session with everyone showing their projects.

Ai Boon Tan

Hi there. Thanks for sharing.  I am thinking of starting a Scratch Club too and would like to know how long your sessions are.  From your experience, will 2 hours be enough for each meeting? Do you pair them up to share a computer or is the ratio one computer per student? Do you challenge them with competitions and stuff like that? Please advise. Thank you.