Just Scratching the Surface
T he very first thing I do when I get my L&L magazine is flip through it to find new ideas and
programs to share with my students
and colleagues. This is how I found
Scratch (“Sowing the Seeds for a More
Creative Society,” L&L, December/
January, 2007–08, pages 18–22).
Scratch is a simple programming
language that allows users to create
interactive stories, animations, games,
music, and art—and share them with
others on the Scratch website (http://
The article, written by Mitchel
Resnick, director of the Lifelong
Kindergarten research group at MIT’s
Media Lab, piqued my interest. I was
drawn to Scratch immediately for
1. It was free.
2. It aligned with my own philosophy about teaching and learning.
3. It seemed like something the
students would love.
The first day I used Scratch with students in my computer lab, it was a hit.
I started by teaching third graders how
to make a cat move from one side of the
screen to the top and then to the other
side. Although this may seem simple, it
took us most of the 45-minute period.
I had to explain the Cartesian graph,
which was a somewhat new concept
for them, and review integers. I wanted
them to use the language of the program, so I taught them that a sprite is
an image or animation integrated into
the larger scene. We also discussed
code and scripts.
After working together as a class, I
allowed time for independent exploration. Collaboration was everywhere.
“How do I…” would come from some-
where in the room, followed by a quick,
“Here, I’ll show you!” Word quickly
spread throughout the school, and soon
students from other grades walked into
the lab saying, “Can we do Scratch?” or
“Are we doing Scratch today?”
The Scratch website contains count-
less projects that educators can down-
load. They can even copy the code and
modify it. Finding sprites that had
code already attached gave students
experience with sharing and modify-
ing code. Students became experts,
and soon their sprites could follow the
mouse or stretch in interesting ways.
They were problem solving and col-
laborating. The energy in the room
After about four sessions of exploring
the program, I added more parameters.
The first Scratch project was to animate
their names. They had to use all the letters of their first names, animate them,
and choose a background. Most of the
students went beyond the requirements
and were thrilled to share their animations at the end of class.
This initial success inspired me to
branch out in other directions. Scratch
became one way for fifth graders to
share their work as a culminating
project on U.S. government. The students worked in groups to research
one of the three branches of government. After a few weeks, the students
would share their information with
By Michelle Podulka