Deciding that the best approach would be to have some sort of end product to aim for, rather than just acquire knowledge of Scratch for its own sake, I scouted round the web in search of inspirtation and decided, after contemplating a few options, that the end product would be for the pupils to create a simple maze game for FS/KS1 pupils to practice their mouse control.
I duly planned the lessons, but had had a feeling that as Scatch is so versatlile that the pupils would explore, and maybe not in the order I expected, it was unlikely that the sessions would easily fall into the discrete chunks I’d planned. How true that turned out to be… shortly into the 1st lesson as it happened.
After showing the pupils some of the mazes on the Scratch website (and telling them that I might not be able to create them myself and certainly won’t have all the answers) we decided that we’d need to analyise what the pupils would need to be able to do to create a maze game of their own. We came up with a list of ‘must haves’ and some ‘optional extras’. Must have were things like: being able to move the character with keyboards, stopping the character passing through the maze walls: Sending the character to a start position rather than it starting where the game last finished. Extras were: keeping score of bumps and animating the character.
I also decided to utilise the Learning Platform for this topic as it was a convenient place to not only park the identified tasks and Learning Outcomes, but also to host the resources I’d collected and made to support the pupils. These included cards from the Sctrach website and video resources I’d link to and some I created myself. Why bother? Well, problems with internet filtering meant some videos were inaccessible and others were too long or had bits in I didn’t want. I used Screencast O Matic for recording them, and I have to say it’s very easy to use. You can see my videos here.
One thing that came out of this was that some pupils were so used to seeking answers from the teaching and support staff that it took a fair few reminders that once I’d done my demo of a technique, there were resources on the learning platform for them to refer to if needed. My intention was that these resources would free me up to spend time with smaller groups who needed extension or support. I would be lying if I said we were at that stage totally yet, but we’ve certainly moved more towards more independence from the pupils. Like everything else, some things just take time.
I’d created a school user account for the pupils, mainly because it meant that when the mazes were uploaded, they’d all be in the same place, making it easier for peer review, for the other staff to view them and the younger pupils to play them.
So, how useful is Scratch? Very. Depending on how you approach it, it ticks the ‘Logo’ box. We created our own characters for the maze, so there’s an element design and audience consideration in there and obviously there’s control/programming. If we’d have had time, we could have explored sounds to add to the games, so some aspect of multimedia in there too.
The new draft Computing curriculum makes a lot about programming, loops, rules and algorithms. Potentially scary, but Scratch does tick a lot of boxes in this area.
As well as all these, Scratch also throws up other things that might not be immeiately obvious. Examples are the need to know about x and y co-ordinates and negative numbers to move the character round the screen and a working knowledge of angles, if the user chooses a different approach to moving the character. We also spoke about constructive criticism as one task was to play other mazes and provide feedback.
As expected, some aspects proved challenging for some pupils and some of the concepts proved difficult, but most pupils showed determination to overcome the initial obstacles and produce a finished maze. It’s impossible to capture here, but there was a definite sense of pride when the mazes were uploaded to the site and the pupils could see their work online. And pride was certainly on full view when one pupil, who found some of the processes quite challenging, discovered how to make his character change colour every time a key was pressed and was then charged with showing others how to do it.
I’d rather hoped that some pupils would end the topic by finding out how to do some things that I didn’t know and when one pupil suggested making a second level for his maze, we hit this point. I didn’t- still don’t in fact- know how to do that, but after pointing him at the Scratch Wiki off he went and not long later, he knew more than me. I know this is an uncomfortable position to be in for some teachers, but it’s one that we’ll have to get increasingly used to, especially for ICT, and whilst I might not have been able to do what he could, I still had a role in being the critical friend in the game creation process. Agreed, I needed a working knowledge of the software, but I’d argue that you don’t necessarily need to know it inside out.
You can see the finished mazes here, and if you have, or create, a Scratch account, then please comment of the pupils’ work.
Last week we used our new found knowledge to create a Red Nose Day Scratch game (details here). The site provided some RND graphics to use and the pupils were off. I showed them how to make a 2-player chasing game and left them to their own devices, but one thing cropped up which sort of made my afternoon. It was a pupil who, without prompting, made his 2 characters start at opposite corners of the screen as the game started. Simple maybe, but aren’t all the best ideas? It’s just thinking of them.
If you’ll pardon the pun, we’ve only just scratched the surface of the software and I’ve seen on other blogs how it’s used from Y2 through to KS4 and beyond. Programming/Coding will be a part of the new Computing curriculum. I’d be giving serious consideration to giving Scratch a workout and coming along the to HCTS course in June might be the start you need.
I’ve been told by some children that they’ve downloaded Scratch as use it at home and I’ve been asked on a weekly basis about when Scratch 2.0 (the web-based version) will be released. Well, if children are keen enough to do that then I think it speaks volumes for the software. Engaging, challenging and it fulfills the curriculum. Job done!