You loved the original Toy Story that came out 15 years ago, didn’t you (has it been that long already)? The movie spends a lot of its time demonstrating what you should feel about Andy and Sid’s rooms. Sid’s room is all about the budding inventor in the child – the child is always ripping toys apart and trying to rebuild from parts; and the screenplay seems to somehow pity those toys. Andy on the other hand has all the Toy Story characters that you’ve come to love – and they are in pristine condition. That’s not what children’s toys are supposed to do, are they? They aren’t just supposed to sit there and look squeaky clean – children are supposed to get some use out of them, to be creative. If your aim is to be teaching your children to think on their own and to create on their own, the answer isn’t in anything like giving them toys to play with. It’s getting them toys to create with. And that is exactly what the new children’s computer program, Scratch, is all about.
Scratch as a programming language that’s aimed at children five years and up. You have seen how children love to play with Lego blocks, haven’t you? They just knock them together, and build entire cities with them. Scratch works somewhat similarly – except that children here snap together blocks of code that are colorfully and appealingly laid out. It’s the futuristic tool for teaching children with that we’ve come to hope for ever since we first heard of computers decades ago; the program was invented at the MIT Media Lab at their Kindergarten for Life project whose mission is to dream up the most innovative new teaching tools ever.
It’s caught on like wildfire, and the official Scratch conference a little while ago had enthusiastic students trying to participate from mostly every country in the world. The thing is though, that the children who participate don’t usually learn about Scratch through their schools. This is strictly extracurricular. Going by the uploads of Scratch-made programs on the official websites (children have put together about 200,000 scratch projects so far), children love it. Finally, here’s vindication for the view that supporters of creative teaching have always held. If pupils at a school are not interested in what is being taught to them, it is probably just the curriculum and the teaching method that is to blame. Teaching children isn’t even required when you give them Scratch, usually. They delve in and see vast possibilities for creativity on their own.
The name Scratch comes from the techniques that turntable artists use to create new songs with existing works. They mix clips, slow down and speed things up, and somehow take something that existed previously, and create something totally new with it. Scratch, the programming language, has a huge media library, and lots of pre-existing program snippets that children can put together to create unexpected and wonderful things. You have a palette area, and lots of blocks around with descriptive descriptions. You drag the blocks into the scripting area, and you see them react in new and exciting ways. Teaching children has never been about finding the right books to have them slave over. It’s about showing them how wonderful learning can be. And then, nothing can stop them from making it their own.