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Scratch IT!

19 Jul

sratchOne of the questions I ask myself every year is what kind of introduction to coding I can usefully give my grade 8 and 9 students. I have used both JavaScript and ActionScript at various times. This week the IT teacher taught my class to use Scratch, and the students produced a simple Pong style game in an hour lesson. The motivation behind this guest appearance was the desire to grow the number of students electing to take IT as a subject to Matric. Scratch is a free program which uses a visual interface to set up conditionals, loops and all those programming things that depend on pesky indents or braces in programming languages such as Java, very off-putting for students! The results are displayed in a preview window, and do not require compiling! Again, a big plus for beginners.

There is a huge debate amongst IT teachers about the usefulness of Scratch as an introduction to programming, many seeing it as a waste of time they could be using to get straight into Java. Others praise it!

I watched the lesson from the back of the classroom, and was impressed by what I saw: students engaged in creating the game and exploring the application beyond the instructions given. Coding games, is, I believe the way to go. No-one really wants to code tax return programs, and games tend to provide an enormous sense of satisfaction. Gosh – did I do that!?

Snapshot 1 (2013-07-12 12-58 PM)I used Scratch for he first time last year as part of an online course on Edx.org and found it tremendous fun. I am not sure about how it stacks up as a tool for programming students, but for a general class, with no interest in programming, it really seemed to old their attention, and the results were pretty good.

I believe all students should have some exposure to programming. We live in a world were coding is embedded in the very air we breathe and it is extremely dangerous to allow a situation where we become dependent as a species on something we cannot at the very least tweak! I also think it helps develop thinking skills. There is something precise and unforgiving about computer programming. It permits no margin for woolliness and demands the highest standards of precision and accuracy from students. Gratification is delayed, and I believe this is also a very useful lesson students sometimes don’t learn often enough in this day and age! It teaches the value of persistence as well, and, again, students tend to give up far too easily when tasks become difficult.

On this exposure to Scratch, I have to say that it seems about the best introduction to programming for a general class that I have come across.

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