Lowering the Bar

Wow, too long since the last post. Life happens…

I’ve been playing with Scratch for the last two days. It picks up where Logo and Microworlds left off: a simple, graphical programming environment easy enough for kids – and even teachers – to use. It’s a nice introduction to the concepts of object-oriented programming: you create graphical sprites and create behaviors for them to perform by attaching combinations of interlocking command “blocks” to each one. They can react to mouse gestures, keypresses, sounds, and even sensors (via a “scratch board” that you can purchase) attached to the computer. In true OOP fashion, the sprites can also broadcast and receive messages and thus can interact with each other. My first project is a piano that is played using the keys on the keyboard. I’m now in the process of creating an on-screen keyboard that the user can click with the mouse. Once your project is done, you can upload it to a public gallery on the Scratch site, although the best examples can be hard to find among the efforts of the first-timers like me.

Kids will love this although I think the hurdle of learning to “program” in Scratch may still be too high for content area teachers to want to invest the time to support their curricular goals. If I were teaching history and I wanted my students to create interactive animated maps depicting immigration patterns or something like that, it would probably take a significant investment of time to get them to the point where they could even start to accomplish this. Still, I know they would love every minute of it and gain the (more important?) benefits of practicing programming: problems solving, organization, big-picture thinking.

So they’ve lowered the bar again – the learning curve that has prevented wider audiences of students and teachers from enjoying the practice of programming as a support to instruction. Maybe it’s not low enough yet, but it just got a little lower…