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Expanding Uses for Scratch in the Classroom

Written by Laura Beth Fay
August 02, 2011

Since that first experience with Scratch in my classroom nearly three years ago, I have continued to develop ideas for ways that I can maintain the excited atmosphere that I am still driven to achieve. For example, every October my students participate in Violence Prevention in Schools Week by creating stories and games that teach elementary students to avoid violent situations by making the right choices. I use this unit to teach plot development and audience recognition, but just as I did with the poetry unit, I realized that computational thinking skills continued to materialize.

On one occasion in the lab I decided to try out an experiment to see if these computation thinking skills really had an effect on my classroom environment. I created a simple example of the interactivity that is possible in Scratch programming and I gave this example to the programmer of the example above, Jim, who was struggling with coming up with an idea to grab the attention of his audience. Jim liked what he saw of my programming and immediately started to remix the code so that he could recreate it in his own program. As he was playing with his program to see if it worked and check for bugs, other students in the room started to notice that he had done something different and they began to ask for instructions on how to do the same thing. I interrupted at that point just to remind him that he was certainly allowed to help out other students, but that my rule is he has to do so without touching the other student’s mouse.

This was a frustrating concept for Jim. He wanted to just take over the mouse and create the code for his friend, but since he knew I was watching he was forced to find a way to deconstruct and verbalize the learning process that he had just been through. It took a few tries, but eventually Jim was able to get his ideas across so that his friend understood how to make his program interactive. Jim was visibly excited by this success and began to travel the room showing other students how to create interactive buttons.

The process that Jim has just gone through is one that has occurred during writer’s workshop before. The idea that he observed a model of writing, emulated the model to create his original writing, reflected on the process that aided him in his writing, and then shared his experience with other writers is not new. What is new in this situation is the way in which I view it. as the facilitator of the experience. By changing the vocabulary about Jim’s experience, I was able to see that he was utilizing computational thinking skills. Now that I have learned more about what computational thinking is, I would say that Jim has remixed the work of another programmer, deconstructed his learning process, and abstracted his thinking in a recursive manner in order to assist other programmers.

I continued through the rest of that week seeding these same types of peer interactions. It did not always work out as well as it did with Jim, but for the most part the students were interacting with each other about their programming in very meaningful ways. As I reflected on this at the end of the week I realized that this idea of seeding peer interactions could be a new way to handle mini-lessons within my writer’s workshop sessions. Seeing these interactions has changed the way that I view peer conferencing and the level of interconnectivity that exists in my classroom.

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