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Scratch lessons at the local public library

In november 2015 I had the great chance to teach in a coding course for kids from 8 to 13 years old. It was my first Scratch coding course and my first time with so young kids.
None of the kids had coded before, we had just 4 lessons of 2 hours each. No much time to learn such a tricky thing.

I was sure I didn't want to teach in the usual way with blackboard and kids seat on their desk, the last thing I needed were bored kids watching me. 
Starting from the idea that kids are seated in class listening to a teacher every day and rarely can move or interact with each other, I thought about a class where everyone can say what's in his/her mind, interact with other kids and teacher, kids that can explain how to solve a problem or an idea on how to do it, also kids who move from their place to help someone else.
What I wanted was a new way to teach and learn together based on  creativity, curiosity and collaboration.
Well, that meant a very different class and also a very busy and noisy class. But I was sure that was the way to involve all of them.

So, now I needed new rules, different rules from the ones in their class every day.
In my very first lesson I introduce myself and my new rules.

Rules in my class were:
  1. Be polite with anyone in and out of the class and don't shout.
  2. Everyone can speak, ask, teach, say what's in her/his mind about the current project, suggest solutions and so on.
  3. Everyone can move from her/his place to go to help someone else, to work with someone else, to watch what others are doing or just to move.
  4. Everyone can make any kind of experiment and change every part of the project in every way she/he prefers.
  5. I don't give homeworks.
Kids were a little bit perplexed, parents were more than perplexed. Some of them asked me if I were sure about the rules and I answerd that I was more than sure. 
Actually, I was not so sure. 
I was more than sure just on one thing: those were the ingredients of two situations: a new kind of teaching to a class or a disaster and if I didn't be very carefully it would be a great disaster!

During the first lesson kids didn't feel free to talk and move. I talked to them about Scratch and coding. I guided them through their first project, a very easy project. At any block we added to the project, I left them thier enough time to understand what happened and they got very curious about this new thing, realizing that they could "make Sprites alive". I talked to them trying to use gestures, asking them their own opinions about what we should expect from our code. 
Suddenly, kids started to try by themselves and asking me questions about the project and how to do something new. They started talking to me and to each other and being creative, kids changed their behaviour in class from passive to very active. 
At the end of the first lesson, I didn't do the project I had prepared in advance for them, anyone did a new project, someone personalized the project in different ways. 
That was the demonstration that I was on the way to doing a good job!

After a week we had the second lesson, kids didn't have any homeworks (rule no. 5) but they brought me a lots of projects they had made at home to show me. They had worked hard, some projects needed to be correct, some projects needed to more knowledge to be completed but I was surprised to see how much passion they had made in those projects.
During the second lesson kids already knew rules and were familiar with Scratch so we worked faster than the first lesson. 
Kids were more friendly with each other and lots of them decided to work in group, moving form their place. In each group there were kids with different skills that gave kids the ability to work together harmoniously.
Working on an animation where there was a magician in a castel, who had to disappear and reappear somewhere else, kids learnt by themselves how to use the image editor and in no time the magician became Harry Potter with a powerful magic wand that emited lots of colorful sparks.
Kids, who were working in group, found out how to use the image editor faster than the ones who worked by themselves, but anyone felt free to give help to other. Who needed help to draw Harry Potter glasses felt free to ask for help and when I was busy explaining something, kids felt free to help their mates. 
Kids were working creatively, curiously and also they were working together helping each other. 

Our third lesson started with our "show and tell" session where anyone wanted to show his/her project to me and also to the class, anyone felt free to give positive opinions and suggestions to any projects.
On that day we worked on a game. That was challenging for kids, but they worked hard as usual. They were very confident and someone started to give suggestions about the project, also asking for more time to change the project as they liked.
Kids who worked in group were very active, they knew each other skills and used them properly to solve any problems in the project. 
At the end of the lesson, they ask me for a specific project to make together during our last lesson: a virtual pet. I told them it could have been tricky but they were sure to succed.

The last lesson started with "show and tell" session again. Kids started by themselves to share their projects and ideas about them, I gave them extra time to talk and share their ideas, that would be their last lesson together and I was sure they needed that extra time to connect to each other.
Then we started our project: the virtual pet. Kids liked very much the idea to make a pet that they could pet, feed, put on sleep and wake up clapping their hands. 
They were very interested in that project and followed the lesson more careful, we had few time and they didn't want to waste it. 
At the end of the lesson, I gave them time to show their pets to the class: someone changed colors, someone changed sprites, someone changed sounds but everyone did a great job!
I was amazed about that group of kids who had never known about coding before! 

Then I asked them to give a ten minutes more to thank anyone for the great job and giving them a personalized "diploma". It was nothing that had real value but I was sure it would have had value for each kid in the class, they needed it to remember that days together, the job made, their projects and anything else connected to those.  

I was really surprised by those kids, their projects, their passion on that thing called coding. 
Parents were more surprised than me: their kids learnt so much in just 8 hours and, above all, kids learnt to work harmoniously with others, in a positive way, in a positive environment. 

I'm sure those kids learnt lots of things during our lessons, but I learnt more than them. I learnt that giving kids clear rules, positive and relaxed environment, freedom to choose mates to work with, fun projetcs and, last but not least, all my passion, kids work and learn more easly, they work with passion too. 

In conclusion, the most important tools for a teacher in a classroom are passion, creativity and fun. These tools should be inside in any teacher's bag and should be used anytime any class, with children and adults too.
Coding could be tricky or not interesting thing to learn, but with these tools any teacher can involve poeple in it. 

Amy Cook

​I also work for a library that wants me to teach Scratch to kids, but I only have one hour to do so! Not one hour a week for 4 weeks, one hour EVER.

​I did a class like this last year where I tried to drag all the kids through the same piece of code to create a game. I thought this would give them enough background to go and create on their own. They did not like this at all, and wanted to branch off on thier own right away - which is what Scratch was designed to encourage - so I would like to design my class with a lot more creative freedom.

​If you have the time and don't mind me asking, if you only had one hour to intruduce children to Scratch, what would you include in that hour?


​Amy Cook