Teaching Younger Kids Programming using Scratch

Teaching Younger Kids Programming using Scratch

IMG_3452Learning to code is all the rage these days.  While I do not completely agree with teaching programming for programming sake, I strongly believe that computational thinking is a crucial skills for children growing up in the 21st century. Scratch from MIT is a platform designed to effectively teach kids, including college students, computational thinking via programming using Scratch. But how young can you start?

After running after school Scratch classes for a few years with K-6 kids, this is what I found about getting younger, 6 -7 years old, to use Scratch:

Attention Span

Any parents of a 6 years old can tell you, getting a 6 years old to sit down and focus for more than 20 minutes is difficult. Doing scratch at home actually is easier as there are less distraction. But do not count on being able to create a large Scratch project on one sitting.

Reading Skill

IMG_3394

Scratch is very visual, and most basic blocks are color and shape coded. So one does not have to be able to read all the text on the blocks to use them. However it can get slightly frustrating if a child cannot find the blocks that she wants to use. One way to help is to prepare some basic blocks that the child may need, either by dragging them into the scratch area, or by printing them out on a piece of paper so that the child can just visually try to match the blocks.

Explain and re-enforce the color coding scheme: Block for movements, purple for looks (say blocks), etc will help.

Writing Skill

Similarly, if the child is going to have her characters say things (which is a good idea), she needs to be able to type, and spell. Some children gets frustrated, especially if they are aware that they “need” to spell the words correctly, when typing. Most often the parents get more frustrated as they see their children struggle to spell. My recommendation? Does not matter. What’s wrong with a character saying “trhjhirj ffweg3sffs” !!?

Mousing Skill

This can be a problem. Scratch is very much drag and drop. Depending on the amount and type of computer usage the child already has, using the mouse can be challenging. Drawing with the mouse is another skill that a child may not have developed. Here, Macs and one button mouse have an advantage. But a child will learn very quickly.

Drawing

For younger kids, sometimes just drawing sprites using the built in costume editor is fun enough. In a Scratch class, I usually get one younger kids that end up just using Scratch for drawing 90% of the time, and that’s fine.

Story Telling

The next step from drawing can be just adding say and wait blocks to their sprites. This way, one or two characters in a Scratch project can act out scenes, sometimes from their favorite book or TV (yikes) shows. At least this makes the child a digit content creator instead of a content consumer.

Scratch Cards

The Scratch team at MIT created a series of one page handouts called Scratch Cards. They are designed as mini activities that can be used in Scratch workshops. Because the activities are short, and usually the blocks are printed on the cards, they can be a great resource for quickly doing some project in Scratch. It always, always bug me that they do not just sell physical versions of these cards. Instead you need to download the PDF, print and laminate them. But they are very useful.

Remixing

A great way to learn Scratch, and it is built into the philosophy of Scratch, is to learn from each other by remixing each other’s project. Remixing is built into the Scratch platform. The only downside of learning by remixing is that often a child will get caught up looking for fun games to play on the Scratch website and forgets to remix. Especially for younger children some supervision is advised.

WeDo

IMG_1996

Lego sells a set of kits under the name WeDo that can be programmed using Scratch or their own software. I highly recommend this as another activity for learning to use Scratch. Unfortunately all the cool Lego stuff are only available from their education division. ( )But individuals can buy directly from them. The kits are expensive, but they are good. One small catch right now is that the new version of Scratch, because it is web based, does not yet work with WeDo. So you have to use the older version (1.4) if you want to use WeDo. See some examples in this video, pass the 2 minutes mark.

Learning to Learn

So there you have it. I have seen many young kids starting off struggling with Scratch at 5 or 6 years old, and turned into a very competent Scratchers in one or two years. The skills and fun they acquired make it all worth it. One of the most important skills a child can acquire is to learn to learn:

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ” – Alvin Toffler

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • Posterous
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter

Squarespace has a URL formatting problem

I really like Squarespace. Their support of many of my favorite podcast (penaddict, ATP) helps. I have started to recommend and use Squarespace for many of my nonprofit websites (Fiske School PTO).

Recently I started to convert some of my other blogs (loftykids.org) over. Immediately I run into a big problem. When Squarespace import (or create) a blog, it requires the blog entries to live under a suffix within the site’s URL scheme. For example, the default suffix is “blog”. This means all the blog entries will be of the form:

http://mydomain.com/blog/2013/01/fancy-title-1

http://mydomain.com/blog/2013/02/fancy-title-2

... etc ...

http://mydomain.com/blog/2013/02/fancy-title-n

There is no way to not have the /blog/ or /anything/ suffix, for example the following URL is not possible:

http://mydomain.com/2013/01/fancy-title-1

Currently most blog based website removes the suffix and use some sort of date notation only in the URL. The site of Matt Mullenweg, founding developer of WordPress, is a good example. Squarespace however cannot serves blog pages using this convention.

URL Mapping

Squarespace does have a URL mapping settings, where you can map one URL to another. However the mapping is a literal mapping. It does not support wildcard. i.e. you have to manually enter each page name. So you have to create a long list of URLs and issue permanent redirects for them one by one using this setting option. This is the only solution.

Customer Service

Squarespace always have great customer support. They respond to email or chat inquiries very quickly. This time is no different. I have to give kudos to the customer service reps that handle my inquiry regarding this bug. Stephanie D took my issue and spent a lot of time trying to get a definitive answer to whether this can be avoided with their tech team.

 

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • Posterous
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter

Interactive Unix Shell Tutor

explainshell.comCame across this website today curtesy of the MIT miters list serve:

http://explainshell.com/

This site lets you enter a unix shell command and give you an explaining of what it does. It is pretty smart — a great way to learn and teach shell usage.

 

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • Posterous
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter

It is time to get rid of the floppy disk icon metaphor

floppy_disk_iconI was viewing a PDF in google chrome and wanted to save the PDF to my local drive. Hovering over the document, a icon bar popped up. To save the PDF obviously I press the floppy disk icon, right? I used floppy disk when I was in college. I remember Apple uses it a lot in its user interface. But I can tell you that my elementary age children have never seen a floppy disk in their lives and would never have guessed the meaning of the icon.

It was more ironic to see this used in Chrome. Surely many of the young engineers at Google has never really used a floppy disk either, right? Apple is working hard to make the “Save to Disk” action unnecessary. So who is going to come up with the next great metaphor for “save” while we still need it?

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • Posterous
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter

1Q84 and Math

I made the “mistake” of picking up ichi Q hachi yon by Haruki Murakami. Of course I cannot put it down. Here is Tengo on Math:

“Math is like water. It has a lot of difficult theories, of course, but its basic logic is very simple. Just as water flows from high to low over the shortest possible distance, figures can only flow in one direction. You just have to keep your eye on them for the route to reveal itself. That’s all it takes. You don’t have to do a thing. Just concentrate your attention and keep your eyes open, and the figures make everything clear to you.”

Beautiful.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • Posterous
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter

CustomMade and 18 Million

What can CustomMade do with it’s new round of financing, 18 million dollars? a lot.

I am lucky enough to experience the inside view of a large funding round like this for the second time. The first one, AdvisorTech Corp, was during the Internet Bubble years. 20 millions were nothing to talk about. This time around, the market conditions are much more realistic, and the CustomMade round is well deserved and it is a vote of confidence by the markets. One of the main success factors for CustomMade is the pairing of co-founders Seth Rosen and Mike Selguero. They have complimentary skills in a way that I have not seen for a long time.

Another factor of CustomMade’s success is the first mover’s advantage. While being first does not guarantee success, being first and having a team that have worked and worked to understand the customer gives CustomMade a tremendous advantage over any competitors. Any two sided market place business is difficult to understand. Which side of the market should subsidize the transaction (makers)? How to deal with competition within one side (how to encourage maker participation without shrinking the maker pool by favoring high performers)? How to match make between the two sides (customers and makers)? The CustomMade team has built up a lot of internal knowledge of how to make this market work.

But remember, to quote Mike quoting Seth:

A dollar raised is a dollar not earned — Seth Rosen

This is a beautiful insight into the truth about startups — Having raised this large round of financing just means that we are in the hot seat to delivery value to the investors by multiplying those dollars into revenue growth.

Here is a picture of @pks, @MoonlightLuke and @markstenquist working hard with their pen and paper… (We were signing forms for a welding class, to understand how to custom make objects!)

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • Posterous
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter

Review of Delineato Pro, a light weight diagramming tool for the Mac

I came across Delineato Pro almost by chance while browsing the App Store. A quick googling around, after reading the developer interaction with his users on macrumors forum, I bought it just to try it out. I wrote the review with it as you can see below.

For the search engine: I recommend giving a try, especially if you are frustrated with the complicated feature set of OmniGraffle, and find pure mind mapping tools too restrictive in terms of layout.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • Posterous
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter

Reviewing the perfect Hi-Tec-C pen, the Render K

I love fine point pens. All my fountain pens are either F or EF nibs. I use Sharpie F points. But I never gotten excited about the Hi-Tec-C and I never knew why, until this week.

After hearing Brad Dowdy and talked about the Render K many times on the Pen Addict Podcast, I decided to get one. Hoping on the  Kara Kustoms website, I saw that they have some limited editions available. Somehow the Raw stock version seems to be the most authentic version for a pen like the Render K, so I ordered one.

The Render K is everything it is suppose to be. A beautifully created pen with all the right lines and precision construction. I popped an old Hi-Tec-C refill that I had into the Render K, and I suddenly find myself loving the Hi-Tec-C ink. Then I realized why: I really dislike light weight pen. The standard Hi-Tec-C is the worst — both light weight and thin. That is the reason I never liked it. Now with the weighty Render K, I really like writing with the Hi-Tec-C 0.4 mm refill now.

Note that this is a special raw stock edition. The body is deliberately not polished. I happen to like the look. When you buy a regular Render K from Kara Kustoms, it will look beautifully polished.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • Posterous
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter

Story Telling and Game Making with Scratch

This March I started a new Scratch class for K-6 at Einstein’s Workshop (formally known as H3XL). Here are the class materials for the class so that parents can follow along at home if they wish.

Session 1 Introduce Yourself

Activity: The first session consists of two related activities. First, create a Scratch project to introduce yourself to the rest of the class. Second, create a Scratch project to tell a joke, possibly with two characters.

Learning Objective:

  1. Sharing projects onto the Scratch website (saving the project), need to know how to enter user name and password
  2. basic drawing skills, drawing a picture of yourself or something that represent yourself
  3. basic Scratch concepts: what is a block, what is a sprite, scripts, costumes
  4. import a sprite from the sprite library
  5. use the say and the wait blocks to coordinate telling a joke

Scratch Blocks

Example Program:

See my Hello project, and the knock knock joke project.

Session 2 Let’s learn to fly!

Activity: Create a Scratch project to fly a plane (or other character) around the screen.

Learning Objective:

  1. A simple understanding of the Scratch stage coordinate system (x,y)
  2. Use the “click” trick to fill in (x,y) value in any movement block
  3. drawing background onto the stage

Scratch Blocks

Example Program

See the flying around project.

Session 3 Simple Racing

Activity: Create a Scratch project to “race” two characters on the stage.

Learning Objective:

  1. How to tell a sprite to do someone over and over again (using the repeat block).
  2. optional: collision detecting by checking to see if one sprite touches a specific color
  3. drawing background onto the stage (finishing line)
  4. Start to incorporate knowledge of blocks learned from previous sessions.

Scratch Blocks

Example Program: See the simple racing and the racing with finishing line projects.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • Posterous
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter

Stop Whining, Marissa Mayer is right

I agree with Mayer. Stop whining. The media is quick to jump on the band wagon and proclaim Mayer is heading backwards in time. Not true.

  1. Not allowing working from home full time is not the same as inflexible work arrangement
  2. Nothing can substitute for in person communications (read up on Sherry Turkle‘s work)
  3. Would you rather never see your adult children in person? No more family gatherings for life? I don’t think so.
  4. People who claim working from home is more productive is missing the point. Personal productivity is a very narrow measurement of success.
  5. Virtual team has to be built from in person connections

I am all for flexible workplace. Having to work with many different people in different stages of their lives, this is what I do:

  1. allow for flexible work time, but require core time block when everyone is in the office, say 10-3 M-Th
  2. allow people to start the day early and leave early — great for parents who need to pick up their young children, and start the day late and work late, for the stereotypical techie
  3. allow for a comfortable work place, access to food/drinks/support services and R&R spaces (a given in tech companies)
  4. allow for short Friday’s as long as work is done M-Th

Most importantly, stop whining. If you are unwilling to get dressed, commute into the office to work with your peers just because you feel like you work better at home? What else are you unwilling to do?

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • Posterous
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter