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Playful Pedagogy: An Interview with Ingrid Gustafson about Scratch Club

“Yay! Come to this club and make some games,” is the slogan that Ingrid Gustafson uses to describe her approach in recruiting students for her new Scratch Club. A new initiative at Maria Baldwin School in Cambridge, Massachusetts this year, the after-school program is “trying to make programming-based computer science seem fun.” 

But, as it turns out, she doesn’t have to try very hard to make programming with Scratch fun for the club members.

Ingrid quickly discovered that some club members are programming enthusiasts and are eager to learn the technology. “One of the girls came in with a list of items that her friend from the Scratch website told her that she needed to learn. She came in with this little, scribbled, fifth grader list. ‘I want to know how to pick your own sprite, and then I need to know how to name your own sprite, and then I need to know how to let the person name the sprite, and then I want to know how to pick your own story depending on which sprite you get.’ When Ingrid asks the other children why they signed up for Scratch Club, a sixth grader said, “My computer at home sucks. Everyone else is always on it, and I need to know how to use the computer.” Another student is brainstorming innovative ways to bring technology into the classroom. “One of the boys raises his hand and says, ‘How come you don’t have a Smartboard in here?’ But this kid is actually really clever because I’m pointing up there, and he’s thinking, ‘Oh yeah, that would be perfect for a Smartboard.’” Ingrid responded, smiling, “I’ll bring that up to the principal.”

That was the first day.

Over time, students take ownership of their work and often get caught up in all of the fun, lose track of time, and forget that they are learning. “All of a sudden, it’s 4:10, and they have to go to the bus. They’re all, ‘Aw, my project’s not done. I want to keep playing,’ and that’s always fun when they want to keep going.”

Ingrid’s pedagogy of play pertains to teachers as well as students. “I think everyone just needs to play with Scratch. That was really important for me to not being intimidated by programming and to play with it as much as possible. Unless you put a smiling cat on it, sometimes it’s hard to understand.” Getting teachers past their first impressions of Scratch is Ingrid’s biggest challenge. “If you first look at it, you think, ‘What is this?’ If you don’t know what it’s capable of, especially for teachers who don’t have a lot of experience with technology, it just seems like this thing that you can do coloring in, or draw in, never mind that you can program in.”

If convincing teachers to play with Scratch is the most challenging part of Ingrid’s position as Instructional Technology Specialist, the easiest part is getting teachers to play with Scratch after they have first been introduced to it. “Because it’s free and it can be installed on any computer, if the teacher wants to play with it some more, I can say, ‘Sure, you can install it on your computer. You want to use it at home? Download it for free. Download it, go to town, have fun.’”