A special day from Scratch

I have been given a real opportunity. Yesterday, the Deputy Head of a school I work in came along and asked me for a “favour”. As soon as I hear that word I usually think that I will be doing some task that I would rather not do but which ticks a box (of the many that need to be ticked), for the school.

“We  are having most of our Year 6’s going on a school trip to The Isle of Wight” she said, “but we are trying to do some ‘out of the box’ activities for those who are left. There would be about twenty of them and you can have free run of the computer suite for your day!”

Well, this was a real opportunity for me.The chance to actually practice what I have been preaching at the school (and others) for a long time now. I would have the chance to let these twenty children have free use of a computer suite for a whole day!

Now I know that there are some of you out there who will be smirking somewhat at this statement. You may teach in schools where every child has a laptop or access to a mobile device. This is not the case in any of the schools in the area that I work in. I therefore looked upon this as a chance to prove a point, if only in a very small way. The “digital natives” will have their day!

My mind started racing as to what I could do with them and all those P.C.’s for that one school day. As a Primary Mathematics consultant I knew that it had to have a mathematical element to it but I dismissed my initial idea of a research project in to the history and development of mathematics as being something that I would find exciting but that they might not.

I had to think of a “hook” that would give the children something to really get into. My next idea was “money”. I am currently working with a few schools in our area on a project called “What Money Means” which is a cross-curricular look at the impact of money in our lives. I thought about doing a project on money, how it came about, how it is used and misused and what it looks like all around the world with different currencies and how one currency can be converted into another.

But again, I felt that this might not really excite all  of the children and I therefore had to go back to the drawing board to find a project that would really inspire, be enjoyable and have some mathematics in it.

Whilst walking my dogs in the nearby woods I had a brainwave (it doesn’t happen all that often!). I remembered “Scratch”.

Scratch http://scratch.mit.edu/ is a brilliant concept. It has taken the ideas of Logo put forward many years ago by the great Seymour Papert about children learning about mathematics and programing computers by doing a deceptively simple but powerful program that directs a small sprite (in Logo called a “Turtle”) around a screen and creating shapes using a pen-drawing device.

Scratch has taken the concept developed at the M.I.T. Media Lab a major step forward. You can still program but now you can use simple devices to allow you to do so of boxes that interlink and allow powerful effects. You can use any sprite that you want… on the initial screen is “Scratch” the Cat, who you can make walk around the screen or you can add sound, a background (that you can import) or indeed you can draw your own sprite.

If this is all that Scratch could do it would be a very powerful program indeed. But Mitchel Resnick and his team at the Media Lab at M.I.T. have also taken into consideration the power of social interaction which we now have in our world. On the Scratch site you will see literally thousands of Scratch animations that have been created by children all over the world. These have been uploaded to Scratch and are useable or changeable by other children.

There have been Scratch conferences and “Scratch Days” held all over the world. It is truly an exciting program that I feel will really excite the children I will be working with on May 19th.

So I now have my central idea… we will be starting from Scratch and seeing what the children can develop in just one day. In the process they will learn about programming, mathematical concepts of angle, direction, co-ordinates and scale. Most importantly they will have great fun and I believe that I may just prove my point about the power of new technology to enhance children’s learning. I will of course write a blog entry about our Scratch Day after May 19th.

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