Fourth and fifth grade students at Independence Elementary School recently got an introduction to computer game programming and animation. The class was co-taught by STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) teacher Chris Simon and Yukon Public Schools' Common Core instructional coach Wes Fryer using the Scratch programming platform.
"At the beginning of the year I asked the kids if they were interested in computer programming, and a few raised their hands," Simon said. "When I mentioned their video games were developed by computer programmers, they all raised their hands. This program is a fun way to foster that interest and not be overwhelmed by the actual complex language used in programming."
"For example, younger children can create projects very easily and then they're blown away when I tell them college students use Scratch in some introductory computer science classes, including Harvard's introductory computer class. Projects can be very basic, or highly complex. It's entirely dependent on their interest and imagination."
Scratch is a programming language learning environment enabling beginners to get results without having to learn syntactically correct writing first.
Created by the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Media Lab, it is intended to motivate further learning through playfully experimenting and [the] creation of projects, such as interactive animations, games, etc. Scratch is used in many different settings: schools, museums, community centers, and homes.
Best of all, it is free to anyone who wants to use it. It runs on both Windows and Apple computers. You can download Scratch at: scratch.mit.edu.
Fryer was introduced to Scratch several years ago and led several "Scratch Camps" in Oklahoma City last summer for students as well as teachers.
"One of the creators of Scratch, Mitch Resnick," describes it as having a 'high bar, but low ceiling," Fryer said. "This means it's easy for even young kids to get started creating projects in Scratch, but the sky's the limit with what they can potentially make. It's really an awesome platform for creativity, building communication skills, and developing computational thinking. We know all of these skills are important for our students in the new era of Common Core."
"YPS is extremely fortunate to have a fulltime STEM program for fourth and fifth graders. My hat is off to Chris Simon for jumping in and introducing IES students to Scratch. Who can say the exciting places these skills will take our Yukon students in the months and years ahead? We're living in a digital world, and these kids are learning to think critically as well as communicate effectively in the digital landscape."
Chris Simon is starting an after-school "Scratch Club" for 4th and 5th graders at IES in Spring 2013, which will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school starting January 10th. The website scratchclub.yukonps.com showcases student Scratch projects and shares more information about the club. IES students were invited to apply for Scratch Club in December, and Mr. Simon is starting with 24 students. Both Mr. Simon and Dr. Fryer hope the enthusiasm for Scratch and computer programming will grow not only in Yukon but across the state of Oklahoma!