Scratch Follow-up

Guest Post by Andrew from Match Next

Dan Willingham writes:

You often hear the phrase that small children are sponges, that they constantly learn. This sentiment is sometimes expressed in a way that makes it sound like the particulars don’t matter that much; as long as there is a lot to be learned in the environment, the child will learn it. A new study shows that for one core type of learning, it’s more complicated. Kids don’t learn important information that’s right in front of them, unless an adult is actively teaching them.

Interesting thoughts here - I buy his last point. In my most recent software review, I wrote about ‘Scratch,’ a software we used as a way to introduce our students to the process of thinking like computer programmers. I wasn’t a fan because our kids just couldn’t understand the basic concepts behind how the program works - they needed more of a scaffolded experience and adult guidance, which the program itself doesn’t provide.

I received quite a few responses to my review. This one in particular from Jen Medbery, CEO of Kickboard, caught my eye:

...I push back on the conclusion about scaffolding. At its core, Scratch isn't just about teaching CS concepts, it's also about fostering the engineering mindset, of which tolerance for ambiguity is a part (and, I'd argue, different than grit).

First of all - Jen - thanks for your input here! You bring up some really interesting points.

I agree that Scratch is about both teaching CS concepts and fostering the engineering mindset, but I think the really important question here has to do with ‘how to get students there.’ It’s important because this doesn’t just apply to Scratch. Whenever I research ed-tech, I really look at how good a particular program is at doing what it claims to do (i.e. getting kids to learn about fractions), and judging the program’s approach to reaching that goal.

With Scratch, I didn’t think the program did a great job introducing CS concepts, or an engineering mindset, because the students needed a much better grasp of how to fully use the program and all its features. Simply put, they needed to be more carefully taught how the whole thing worked.  Here’s what they needed:

1. Scaffolded lessons where each feature/block-type is taught and reviewed,
2. Deliberate practice on specific skills (i.e. putting together certain blocks, designing smaller projects, etc.), and
3. Synthesizing these skills into larger projects.

This is why we decided to test out Tynker - it uses the same programming platform as Scratch, but it’s set up to specifically teach students, in small chunks, how to use the program to create projects.*
*We didn’t use the ScratchEd lessons that are linked on the Scratch website. While they were extremely helpful, we focused on using the teaching tools directly available to the students when they logged into Scratch.

Next time: I’ll review Tynker, another computer programming software we’ve tested with our students.

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