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Scratch in Art and Music Class: An Interview with Christopher Michaud of Paulding County Public Schools

As a visual programming language, Scratch offers an opportunity for Arts educators to combine Fine Arts curriculum with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects.

This intersection of Arts and STEM is what interests Christopher Michaud, a Music and Technology/Robotics teacher in Paulding County, Georgia, who is passionate about turning the emphasis on STEM into an embracing of STEAM. “When I started with Scratch it was all extra curricular and I used it as a way to introduce students to computer design but, it has evolved since then.” His eleven years of teaching experience includes using Scratch across subjects in Music, Technology, Mathematics, Physics, and Biology curriculum. “I’ve used it as a means to create games, simulations, and models.”

While working at the Fine Arts department at Nebo Elementary School, Christopher started the Nebo Music Technology program, which has helped over 900 students make music with Scratch. “I would tell students that one of the ways we can use computing is to represent objects with pictures and numbers, and so, in Scratch, we would make virtual instruments, xylophones or drum sets, and the kids would record sounds.” Christopher developed the entire Scratch curriculum, comprised of more than 35 creative projects ranging from animations, art drawing projects, and story projects, to simulations, various games, as well as virtual instruments.

In addition to incorporating digital literacy skills with classroom content, teaching students about being a part of a wider community is another focus of Christopher’s. Not only is he an active member in the ScratchEd and educational technology communities, but he hopes that his work will provide his students with more capacities and pathways for learning from and connecting with others. “The Scratch online community is where they can share ideas and learn from each other very quickly and this fluency with software and hardware enables students to express their creativity and share their creations with others.” His students have presented their Scratch projects at various conferences including the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC, currently known as ISTE) 2009 Conference and the Georgia Educator’s 2009 Technology Conference.

Christopher considers Scratch as a conduit for connecting people and ideas, in and out of school. Just as he encourages students to work with others through the Scratch website and at conferences, he uses Scratch during school hours to make connections across different subjects. He does this by taking particular advantage of the audio recorder and paint editor features in Scratch. Chris strategically designs his lesson plans to offer opportunities for his students to express their creativity through sound and graphics while contextualizing curricular material from various subjects. “Scratch provides a visual, moving metaphor that you can attach other non-visual contexts to. If you can conceptualize it in terms of data structure, you can make it in Scratch.” He summarizes his approach in describing one young girl’s reaction. While working on her Scratch project, “Essentially, she said, ‘Oh, I get it now. This is where Math and Science and numbers and art, it all comes together.’”