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Taking a risk … with computer science

Inspired by the article Taking a risk … with technology, I want to share some real-world experiences about taking a risk with … computer science. If the idea of incorporating new technology into the curriculum is anxiety inducing for an educator, add computer science to the equation and the fear factor seems to amp up ten-fold. The fear of change and not being able to keep up in the midst of rapid and rampant technological advancement is very real. Educators are dealing with paradigm shifts brought on by technology use inside and outside the classroom. Meanwhile, youth continue to find new and inventive ways to engage with technology with or without our guidance. 

Computer science is an integral component to working with tech in the classroom AND computer science isn’t really the big mystery it is often made out to be. Although we’re not all computer scientists, we all do some type of computer science. We solve problems creating algorithms for ourselves. We make decisions using logic. We have to consider issues of our online security & privacy. We make connections and creations with tech. In short, we all do a little computer science pretty regularly. It is important for us to make this connection and even more important that the next generation makes this connection. That’s why incorporating computer science into the curriculum is key. 

Take a risk with Scratch 

Benefits of taking this risk: Students are able to engage with subject area content in new and creative ways while they hone their project planning and problem solving skills. The tech they create may also become artifacts to be used by other students for learning subject area content. 

Conquerable concerns: I don’t know how to use Scratch. I don’t know where to start. Creating with Scratch is too open-ended. It looks like students are just playing around. 

How can it be used? Think of a lesson where students might normally present information with a slide deck or by acting out a skit. 

I have been tasked with finding ways to incorporate computer science concepts into the K-8 curriculum at St. Anne’s-Belfield School. One of the first areas where we have seen affinity is with world languages. I think there are several reasons for this: 1) Scratch is an excellent platform for bringing another language to life 2) there may be a little more freedom within the curriculum 3) and finally learning to code is a little like learning a new language. As you begin to pick up the “words” of coding, you start recognizing their function in the larger context of a whole program. 

How can you use it? Once you have identified a project to incorporate Scratch, you will need to clearly set the project expectations. Because Scratch is so open-ended, it is helpful to identify the minimum requirements for the project & to remind students to get these done before embellishing their own projects.

Here are some examples of how we’ve incorporated Scratch into 4th, 5th & 6th grade Spanish classes. In each case, prep work like research or writing a story was required prior to getting students started with Scratch.

4th grade - Code a Photo Album

In this project, students researched an aspect of Spanish culture they were interested in, like soccer, bull fighting, flamenco dancing, architecture, etc. They collected 6 facts, associated images and citations. This was the first introduction to Scratch for many students, so the coding for the basic requirements was minimal. The students created a photo album using the stage backdrop feature to hold the images & text, then added one sprite as a button to switch to next backdrop. Examples coming soon (this project wraps up at the end of February)

5th grade - Code a Family Scrapbook

In this project, students reviewed the family vocabulary studied in class to make an interactive family scrapbook. This Scratch project incorporates using event-based logic code to trigger audio and animations. More project details.



6th grade - Code a Story

In this project, students created a story incorporating Spanish vocabulary. This Scratch project incorporates using event-based logic to code scene & story transitions. More project details.


What other kinds of school projects can you envision using Scratch? Here’s what our students said after this experience:

“We could do a history lesson with scratch, teach people how to multiply, add, subtract, and divide, and we could just do regular coding for science because I guess scratch is science.”
“An English project for a summary of a book, a history project where you had to recreate a scene.”
“Maybe a math tutorial for the littler kids.”
“a math project were you solve a problem”
“I imagine doing projects on what we research about like China.”
“It would be very fun to do a history project with scratch because we could do it about a important event that happened.”
“A math project, like maybe you would make a story about someone teaching someone else how to add and subtract.”
“stories in english class, very short stories.”
“Explaining anything we are learning through a game or dialog.”

Where to go for help? You are definitely not alone when embarking on a Scratch adventure. There are many educators sharing their resources and you can always take to the twitter hashtags #CSK8 and #Scratch for “tech support”. Also, you don’t have to start from “scratch”, remixing is encouraged and really is a basic tenet of learning to code. Finally, once you embark on this journey you can rely on student experts to step up and give their support.

Other resources:

I’ll be sharing more examples of taking a risk … with computer science from our experiences with CS unplugged, coding apps, web making and much more.

(republished from