skills to students before they started their games, we taught
them as they designed their projects. Instead of asking
the students to complete exercises after each lecture, we
encouraged them to start with their own ideas before we
introduced key concepts they needed to make their games
interactive and animated.
In this approach to project-based learning, young people
use programming for personal expression to showcase
their ideas. They interact with them. They think with them.
And as students perused the projects that their virtual
peers had created, a remarkable thing happened: They
began to share what they found and to comment online in
the wider Scratch community. They didn’t need experts to
teach them programming skills. They became intrinsically
motivated to learn more about Scratch and collaborate
with others. This confirmed for us that teachers can work
as facilitators to support student learning simply by introducing them to a constructive learning culture rather than
a series of prescriptions.
Teachers have known for years that students can learn
very well from each other. When students participate in
an online community with shared interests and goals,
they are even more engaged and motivated to learn. Add
a competitive element, and they can barely suppress their
One of our students explained it well:
So many people helped me with the smallest things. As
soon as people started playing my game, that made me
realize there were still things to fix. I realized if I’d fix
all these things, my game would be overall strengthened. I go on Scratch when I’m at home with free time.
I don’t play video games. I make video games!
The Teacher’s Role
While this type of instruction is student centered, the
teacher plays a major role. To make the experience meaningful, teachers must first have a firm understanding of the
curriculum standards. Then they can begin to incorporate
online competitions into their classroom as tools to teach
and assess those standards.
A seventh grader, Arne, created a game where the player
can change the phenotype of an avatar by rearranging sections of DNA to manipulate her eye color, hair color, and
facial features. Another student, eighth grader Michael,
remixed the age-old Space Invaders game to destroy pathogens by firing lysosomes across cellular cytoplasm. Both
of these students acquired understanding of their subject
matter through the gameplay itself. Rather than functioning as “skill-and-drill” vehicles for memorizing science
Shashank Mahesh (right) of Gibsonton, Florida,
got support from his little brother, who was the
main tester of his entry into the 2012 National
STEM Video Game Challenge.