[This post was written by EdTech Fellow Molly Adams and is cross-posted from the EdTech Link blog.]
As we wait for our Lego WeDo Robotics kits to arrive, my students have been working with Scratch, a kid-friendly programming language created by MIT. They’ve been hard at work creating avatars, designing backgrounds, and writing dialogues for the scenarios they’ve imagined. The part that’s provided the most challenge, however, is learning first-hand how tedious it is to make the avatars do what the kids want them to. Students are starting to understand that a computer/avatar cannot do anything without being told to do it, no matter how minute the detail might be, and they are beginning to think like programmers.
Playing with Scratch has been fruitful in many ways. For one, students will use a similar programming language when working with the Lego WeDo Robotics kits, so they’ll be familiar with the the basic process. More interestingly, I’m seeing the detail-oriented, programming thought process seep into my 3rd grade classroom from kids who are part of my EdTech Link Robotics club. One child drew a connection to Scratch when we were discussing cause and effect relationships during language arts, and correctly sequenced a complex situation. Another wrote a math word problem using his avatar’s movements on a coordinate grid as a subject, and correctly explained the detailed solution to his group.
I have been thrilled with the students’ grasp of programming and how they’ve applied it in other academic areas. One of the reasons I think they seem so natural with it is because of the way they’ve been learning it. My partner and I gave the students a very limited intro to Scratch, and then set them free to explore. As we Fellows learned during out EdTech Link summer experience, sometimes you understand something better when you wrestle with it a little as you try to make it work. In that vein, when the kids wanted to know how to do something, we basically told them to figure it out. Some students were quicker than others, and they became helpers to those in need. As they all become more confident and adventurous with Scratch, the creations are becoming more intricate and polished. The teamwork and collaboration is great to watch, and the creations are fun to see. I’d say that Scratch has been a great way to help students develop the mindset and critical thinking skills they’ll need in order to program robots as our club moves forward.