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March 11, 2012 / carlispina

Starting Out With Computer Programming Using Scratch

I have written in the past about a number of resources for getting started with computer programming, but these resources all jump right into the syntax and logic inherent in most, if not all, programming languages. This can be intimidating for those who are new to computer programming and makes it difficult to engage students, particularly young children, in learning to program. The Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab takes aim at this problem through Scratch, their own programming language, designed to provide an intuitive and fun introduction to programming logic and syntax. Scratch allows users to develop programs by assembling puzzle pieces that represent various pieces of programming logic and syntax. Pieces will only fit together if the resulting code will work, eliminating the frustration of hard-to-find bugs and giving users a visual representation of which pieces of code can work together and which cannot. Scratch includes libraries of graphics and sound that can be used to create programs or users can instead upload their own files to create even more creative products, which gives a great deal of flexibility. Scratch projects can even be used with sensor boards to allow real world input.

To get started with Scratch, users first download the Scratch software. From there, creating games and projects is as simple as dragging and dropping puzzle pieces and selecting graphics. To help users get started, and to encourage teachers who want to use Scratch to introduce their students to programming, Scratch offers a wide range of support documents, tutorials, and FAQs, as well as ScratchEd, an entire website for educators using Scratch, and the Scratch Wiki, which is by and for Scratch users. Once a project is complete, users can share it online in the Scratch Gallery. The gallery is also a great place to get inspiration or even to see the “code” used by others to create their finished products, which can be another great teaching and learning tool. Scratch has been translated into a number of languages to facilitate its widespread use and users from around the world have been coming together each year since 2009 for Scratch Day, an array of international events for Scratch users and enthusiasts. If you get started with Scratch now, not only will you be able to create some fun, interactive games with ease, but you can be ready to take part in this year’s Scratch Day on May 19th.

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