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Scratch Day 2013 in Elk Island Public Schools

Today was our Scratch Day.

What an amazing day. We had a lot of staff helping out to make everything go well, including people from Technology Services, Curriculum Services, Communications, and of course Education Technology and AISI. The teachers who brought students were also great at helping things go smoothly. We also had visitors from the EIPS Executive Team, 2Learn, and the County Library.

We tried to have all of the adults walking around with iPads (or other devices) awarding points that went up on the leaderboard. Unfortunately the script for adding points got a little overwhelmed and we occasionally had to add things manually. In all today, we had just under 2000 challenges completed by almost 200 students. The student at the top of the leaderboard was marked as having completed 11 beginner challenges, 15 intermediate challenges, and 18 advanced challenges (out of a possible 22).

We had also given each student three "help tickets" for asking questions of other students. If they asked a question of another student, they gave that student one of their tickets. At the end of the day we gave a prize to the student with the most. According to the count of his tickets, he had answered 37 questions.

One of things I was most impressed by, however, was a student who came to me near the end of the day to show me what he had been working on. He had decided not to do too many challenges, and instead to spend most of his time drawing sprites that he could use for future projects in Scratch or a game that he plays. These sprites were as good as, or better than, characters I've seen in commercial video games. If we'd had any prizes left at that point I would like to have given him one.

If I had to pick a favourite part of the day, though, it would have been the keynote at the beginning. Dr. Karen Brennan was enthusiastic, engaging, and really set the tone for the day. She was great at answering the students' questions about Scratch and her work, and even the question from a high school student "would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or one hundred duck-sized horses?".


I think the stickers and the "Scratch Programmer" water bottles went over well too. I would definitely do both again, since students seemed to like them.

There were, of course, some glitches during the day. The biggest issue was network/Internet access, which was not as reliable as we had hoped, but thankfully we hadn't planned activities that used too much bandwidth. Power was another big issue, since many of the laptop batteries lasted less than two hours. We had set up charging stations around the room, but since we were in a gym there weren't any power outlets in the floor that would have allowed laptops to be plugged in all day.

Here are some of the highlights from a feedback form we had the students fill out at the end of the day:

  • It was fun!
  • We got to miss a day of school. And Prizes. And Food. and Motivation to be better at scratch.
  • Learning to use Scratch was great, and the challenges and competition were a lot of fun. It was also fun crashing the server :p
  • I liked that we could make our own stuff up.
  • The trivia questions to go get lunch.
  • I liked that everyone was so nice and helpful. and the challenges were fun, as well as the human sprite projects :)
  • cool giveaways
  • I liked that you could view the leaderboard, instead of it being a secret until the end of the day.
  • My friend made a jetpack.

There are also a few other things that we would consider if we do this again, both from our own observations and from the feedback form:

  • more open-ended challenges
  • other programming environments or languages as well
    • more stations with sensors/robots and instructors
  • age or grade groupings for competitions
  • expert judges for merit prizes
  • more learning resources and/or people
  • charge a nominal registration fee to discourage drop-outs and help defray costs
  • intermingle school groups more intentionally
  • more table interactions
  • more varied activities
    • some similar to the people programming (human sprite) activity
    • Minecraft LAN

A lot of work went into this day, but I think it was valuable and it was certainly fun for the students and staff involved. I'm hopeful that we'll get the opportunity to do it again next year, perhaps at a bigger venue with more students.