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Project Based Learning with Scratch

Written by Jennifer Futrell-Shotts
July 23, 2011

“Have you ever wanted to design your own video game or interactive gigapet? This class teaches you how to create games, animations, and stories by combining graphics, photos, music, and sound into interactive creations. You will learn how to create characters that dance, sing, interact with one another, and animate in response to movements of the mouse or key commands. Publish your work to the web to share with friends. “

When I first offered this course description to 100+ 2nd-6th graders in a course catalog, over half of the students selected it as their first choice. Thus began my journey to teaching with Scratch as a part of my classroom writing workshop. After complex scheduling headaches, I found a way to expand the class over three years, during summers, and now teach in a school-wide program that develops animation with students using Scratch from 2nd-5th grade.

Using Scratch for animation and design blurs the lines of computer programming and art. It is a hook for boys and girls, the computer adept and the wary. The click and drag blocks of scripts make Scratch accessible to developing readers and writers in a way that traditional programming is not. Simple click on a script block to see what it does. Using the Getting Started Guide, video tutorials, and Scratch Cards from the site’s support page is a great way to get started. (insert link) Older and more expert users easily find new ways to program objects, using variables for example, and can leverage a vast resource of online tutorials, tips and tricks by visiting the Scratch wiki and resources pages. Tannis Calder’s recent digital book Learning To Scratch is an excellent step beyond the free resources provided on the Scratch website. Her work and other educator related resources are available from the ScratchEd online community.

Combining a resource of ready-made sounds, photos and drawings and a built-in paint editor allows for artistic creativity and multimedia creation. One student may create a sprite (think of a sprite as a character or object to be animated) in the paint editor while another uses pencil and paper to draw, then imports the image.

This flexibility is one of the main reasons I use the program as a literacy tool. Depending on the project and lesson goals, I will create criteria to limit or expand the functions of the program my students use. For example, I might ask them to use Scratch to tell a Native American myth using only original drawings for sprites. In another project, I may require students to find and import a photograph that depicts the setting from a novel we have read to use as a background. Most often, when I leave the creativity up to them, they readily blend mediums to suit the purpose of their writing.

When I teach side by side my students using computers, I am back in 4th grade myself, playing with programming and early word processing. There weren’t many road maps for my teachers, and certainly no common core standards to impede my learning. I learned to use new tools by tinkering. Today, I demonstrate technology in my classroom in much the same way. In the the fourth grade classroom I teach in today, students gather on bean bags, at project tables, and in front of the interactive whiteboard to work during writing workshop. Technology is still lab-centered with one-to-one workspace outside of the classroom.

I offer ideas and provocations, then encourage and support students to explore and take risks. We smile and laugh when things are going our way, and express the ‘grrrs’ of an unsaved file lost in a power surge. With that spirit, the frustrations can be opportunities, a project file to be restarted after recess or lunch.

Like any subject I present, I first need to assess what does each child know and understand about computers, programming, and animation? What skills are critical and meaningful for them to explore as they seek to develop a project and then present it to a wider audience?

Typical to the project learning model, students in my classroom help develop a project rubric to use as evaluation. They are familiar with criteria and continuum based evaluation. In the past, I have presented novel rubric designs using an ice cream cone to show

This year the timing of our work in Scratch fell at the midpoint in our year. In writing workshop, students were very familiar with our process of writing, revising, and using peer editing and feedback to strengthen a piece. They held conferences with me to get feedback on their nature journal and myth writing projects, and completed self-assessment rubrics for both projects. In technology time, they had created multi-media presentations, “The Important Thing about Australia,” using iMovie and had begun using google presentations to embed video and image files into their work investigating endangered marsupials, and Resplendent Quetzals.

Knowing that students had prior experience with Scratch, I was curious to see how far we could go with our project integration. What would be some of the steps we could take to make Scratch an integral part of our thematic study of global cultures through multiple novel studies? How could I differentiate the learning and celebrate accomplishments in both the literacy and technological aspect of the project. More importantly, how could I get students to see their limits and push past them excel beyond what they already knew how to do. What emerged as a question for me to explore was, “can students develop and teach us a rubric to evaluate work by creating an animation of it in Scratch?” (akw, rephrase this)

Because of my familiarity with Scratch, I was positive the student engagement would be high and confident that directing them towards a retelling and interpreting part of a novel would allow students to go deeper with the programming aspect of the project.

notes to self: need to track down student scratch rubric doc and include.
add tannis digital e book
screen shotts of games
self eval samples
google survey
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