Monday, February 25, 2013

Scratch and Creative Learning

For this week's activity, create an Scratch project about things you like to do.

You do not need to add me to the masses consumed with the Harlem Shake. This project is actually the brain child of my twelve year old brother. I cheated, I had somebody else do my work for me. I will go into greater detail later, but I used my brother as an all-too-willing lab rat. He wanted to learn basic programming, I wanted to see if a kid would really engage into constructive programming as quickly as advertised. I thought I was being fair. 

Scratch is a downloadable program designed to allow student to create. This creation comes in the form of intuitive computer programming. Using "blocks" and sprites (characters), users snap together commands to construct one-of-a-kind simulations, games, stories, and animations. Users engage in a very active member forum where members share codes and their unique sprites. It is a collaborative and open community where sharing is not only encouraged, it is expected. Despite the high level of sharing, Scratch is designed to give people a chance to work on personally-meaningful projects. You can take the software and diversify it to achieve a whole range of ends and personalize almost every aspect. In this way, it is simultaneously constructive and interest based (my brother made the Harlem Shake).  The whole point of scratch is to make programming simple so people can be creators using computers. I heard of Scratch many times, but never really played around with it.

The idea of Scratch fits into the framework of MIT's lifelong kindergarten group. The best learning comes from imagining, exploring, tinkering, sharing, and reflecting. It is easy to do this in the earliest of grades because traditionally teachers encourage play, which is fantastic for this model. Blocks and toys are great tools for students to create and learn from the creative process. Unfortunately, as students age, it becomes much harder to come across age appropriate medium for creative learning. Insert the computer, and Scratch. 

Coincidentally, I constantly search for new ways to keep my kid brother's brain moving. His school does not put creative learning first. I am well-versed in the approach of his school because I went there. It is drill and kill, worksheets, and stern discipline  It destroyed my natural love of learning. My brother is a highly intelligent adolescent who loves computers and has a great wit. He is fascinated by social media, especially Twitter, and I could see him creating something awesome someday in the future. That is, if his sense of humor and exploration, are nor crushed by school. He constantly texts me for new ideas. He masters new technology faster than I can give it back to him. I made the call that I would wait to explore Scratch until I was with him. I also thought it would be a fabulous idea to see how kids take to learning this type of programming. 

I was fortunate enough to go home last weekend and at first mention of "programming", Patrick was stoked. He planned to accompany my mom on an errand, but stayed in when I told him my plans. We downloaded Scratch and Patrick wanted to go right at it. I am usually like that as well. I like to learn from mistakes and that is another plus to programming. There really is no perfect, but rather a constant learning from one's mistakes. But I was at at a total loss with this technology, so I wanted to watch intro videos and other informative instruction. After two of these clips, he finally stopped me and said we were just going to do it. That is what technology fosters, a learning from doing. 

With our first few attempts, we were truly overwhelmed. We didn't understand a single thing and I sensed he was getting frustrated. At one point I though he would give up, that this was too hard for him. We both love baseball and wanted to create a baseball game. That wasn't going to happen. I also eased off the reigns a bit. I stopped giving suggestions and let him do more exploring. This is where he was at his best. We raised problems and thought about solutions. We slowly tried things out and inch by inch overcame our infantile knowledge. We also totally changed our plan. We decided to design a new game based on what we had learned. We had no problem switching based on what we learned. Why? We had absolute freedom. I can't image what would have happened if we were forced to stay on our baseball idea. We were practical and became excited at our new knowledge. We called an audible and tried to created a game where buffaloes ate cheese-puffs.

We were having a good time, but suddenly Patrick closed the computer and said he would come back to it. He wanted to eat and do something else. I thought that he was over it, but that was not the case at all. He came back in 45 minutes, refreshed and ready to go again. I honestly feel that he took time to reflect on what he was doing and come up with a game plan. The reason I say this is because he took new approaches and changed ideas when he sat back down. It was total self-regulation and metacognition based on learner autonomy and engagement. It was not long before things clicked for him. Literally. 

When he finished the rough sketch of the game, he quickly turned to a new project. He didn't even ask me for permission or hint that he was embarking on a new voyage. He scripted a dance party in his mind and soon had mock strobe lighting timed with character movement. He finished in like 30 minutes. Brimming with confidence, he took suggestions from the family, and tweeted out his creations. That is the bottom line, they were his creations. He basically started from nothing and came up with something unique. It really showed me the unbelievably power of this program and creative learning. 

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