Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Baby's First Scratch Project

Well, okay, she's almost eight, but it's still a huge milestone.

Today I introduced my daughter to Scratch, a visual programming environment from MIT.  If you've been following my blog for a while, you may be a little surprised at this.  I am generally an advocate for hands-on math making and somewhat of a skeptic when it comes to kids learning from computers, especially those in the pre-school and primary grades.  We need to involve the whole body in learning -- children are already being required to focus primarily on the 2D visual field on top of having limited opportunities for movement throughout the day.  They do not need  more time sitting and looking.

That being said, it's been obvious that my girl was ready for some new challenges.  And, reading has finally become easy.  Words are chunked, weird English language pronunciation and spelling rules are generalized in new contexts, and willingness abounds when there is reason to read. It's clear she was ready for something completely new and different.

Also, I've become a huge fan of Seymour Papert and his work introducing children to computer programming and making math, although I have been skeptical about the computer part until just this week.  His book The Children's Machine is truly the best book of educational/learning theory I have ever read, specifically because Papert himself is such an honest learner and an incredibly astute observer of others' learning.  I could keep gushing, but that will be for another time. In general, though, I am completely smitten with his view of learning as a series of personally relevant connections and his specific descriptions of a variety of children learning Logo, including some who seemed just like mine.

This morning I got some time by myself to poke around the online version of Scratch 2.0.  I knew I was hopeless, but somehow managed to grasp the outlines of how it works.  I wasn't sure if this would be something she would be interested in, but I somehow managed to get her to take a look.  Because it was my idea and I really thought, after reading Papert's accounts of Logo in the classroom, that it needed to be all her from the start, I put her in the driver's seat, literally.  I sat her down in the chair, gave her the mouse, and talked her through the tools. We tried some stuff out, looked at some example projects and, after about 30 minutes, took a break.

At this point I was pretty positive about it all.  She seemed to like a lot about Scratch, specifically the movement/animation, the potential to make her own music, the cat sprite, a chance to play others' games, and the design/paint program.

In the afternoon she wanted to try again.  Since it was my work time and her quiet time the stage was set for her to "have" to work independently.  In the past, learning something new like this would require more attention than I am willing and able to give during this time.  So, imagine my surprise when all I heard for 30 minutes was silence, peppered by a few puzzled-sounding exclamations.  And then I heard:

"Mama, come up and see what I did!" 

She had programmed her 'sprite' (a cat) to walk forward 10 and then meow.  "Believe it or not," she said happily, "THAT took a lot of work."

She continued to experiment for a total of about an hour and then it was time to meet some friends at the park.

When we came home and the well-past-dinner-time blood sugar crash was appeased, she got back on for another 45 minutes.  She was in some kind of zone and it was clear she had outpaced me in one day.  I did sit beside her this time, while she worked, but it was only to ask her how or why she was doing something.  I watched as she moved through the various script categories and made the idea in her head come to life.

Here's what she said in the description of her finished project, which can be found here: Cat Dance

"This was my first day with Scratch. I made it by experimenting at least five times and then just getting it.  It took a couple hours and some hard work"

The best thing is that this is real making to her and she is truly proud of herself!  Computer games have always bored her, but this is real making, real inquiry, and she needed no convincing of that.  She closed the computer at 6:00pm, satisfied with her work but full of ideas for tomorrow. 

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