Scratch + Google = Next Generation of Programming Blocks for Kids
MIT Media Lab
45010

Background: I am Seamus O’Neill, irish and a primary teacher for many years. I am author of Ireland’s most popular primary maths programme Mathemagic. The programme is used in 80% of Irish schools, so I have had an influence on the way maths was taught and learned for the past twelve years! After retiring from teaching I spent a few years learning Adobe Actionscript 3 and I created almost 200 interactive white board resources (IWB) for my publisher. At that time, Apple decided to not support Flash and I felt very deflated, but I consider myself a computer programmer with my feet solidly on the primary classroom floor. I am designer/author of a free-to-use Irish language web site which has over 70,800 users in 3 years. Since 2007 I have a voluntary resources development base in Navan Education Centre where I research projects and develop concepts to work officially with primary and secondary schools. As I have been a CPD tutor for many years I bring a razor sharp focus on what actually works with teachers. I work voluntarily to improve teaching and learning as I live off a teachers’ pension and royalties from my top-selling maths, so I look for no payment for my research and development. I produce top quality Graphic Design and the network of education centres in Ireland (www.ateci.ie) engage me from time to time to write and produce their Year Book.

Scratch: I took great interest in Scratch about 2011 when Actionscript was unpopularised by Appe. I spent a lot of time researching the potential of Scratch for teachers. Over a short period of time, I designed a course in Scratch and our local Education Centre offered my course to teachers. Within a year, Scratch was on offer as a course for teachers by our Department for Education and Skills (DES) and I was Navan Education Centre’s tutor and one of a national team of Scratch tutors. Sometime later in 2012, I established a local computer club CoderDojo in my home town of Navan in 2012. My question: What is the difference between Scratch CODING in an after school club and Scratch CODING on the school timetable? There was, and is, a lot of unclarity about it. Officials in our DES hasten to remind teachers that CODING is NOT on our National Curriculum. Not like our near neighbour England, where it was introduced as a component of Computer Science in September 2015. (Noticeable, not in Wales nor in Scotland which are on the mainland UK). The abiding question for me remained: What is the difference between Scratch CODING in an after school club and Scratch CODING on the school timetable? The change from Scratch 1.4 to Scratch 2.0 was much more significant for educational practice than MIT or ScratchEd realise.

The Eureka moment: Since 2013, with the release of Scratch 2.0 an easy solution became excitingly apparent. It’s now possible to use fine-line vector grids as backdrops. Scratch can be made to resemble a sum copy or even graph paper. Straight away, this makes for much easier use and understanding by young children and by students up to senior level. For teachers and parents the significance of this is to reduce the concept of coding from esoteric to practical daily use. Coding is not throwing the baby out with the bath water, after all! Young children and teachers can continue to make common use of copybooks of square paper. The appearance of Scratch resembling children’s copybooks makes a lot of sense. With some basic coding skills it opens a wide range of possibilities to see coding used as a tool in school.

Beautiful Vectors: I am devoting much time and energy to getting this message out. I’ve been in touch by phone and email with Mitch Resnick and Karen Brennan. It’s surely what many famous commentators and academics have been lecturing about — one of the first talks I listened to in full was Conrdad Wolfram’s TED Talk ‘Teaching Kids real Maths With Computers in 2010. I love listening to academics talk about ‘what ought to be done’ but as many academics are too removed from the chalk-face, the actual doing is lost in the thunderous applause. The SCRATCH MIT TEAM HAVE DONE IT, but I think they have not realised it …. and there is talk of moving on to Scratch 3, without exploring the enormous potential of Scratch 2.0 with all its updates.

READY STEADY CODE- Maths with Scratch: In Ireland from 15th to 23rd October , we are on the cusp of EU Code Week / Maths Week coinciding again. I would like to see Scratch used by teachers across all curricular areas. It needs to be elective but a simple approach will encourage more to take it on. I want to start with maths. My current project READY STEADY CODE (RSC) was launched with a 2-Day Tutor Training event in Navan on March 2016. Almost 40 tutors representing 15 education centres around Ireland attended. A repeat of the event took place in the South East counties of Ireland.

READY STEADY CODE (RSC) is the smart thinking that is required in Ireland to introduce teachers and children to Coding. For many reasons Coding is not likely to be on the Irish National Primary Curriculum in Ireland for some time. RSC opens up an amazing new relationship between Maths and Scratch. It is a unique way to use SCRATCH to do maths and coding at the same time. Teachers require no background in coding and it saves time and effort while captivating the children to use code as they do their written maths work. RSC correlates coding with written maths work. Pencils, rulers, and copybooks are still good to go. In a written maths lesson most children would be expected to work in their copy books while two or more children (with even one computer) can code the work and then present it on the class IWB or overhead projector. ‘Coders’ can be rotated from child to child, lesson to lesson and day to day. Some write, some code. With READY STEADY CODE and the phenomenal success of CoderDojo in Ireland, every classroom should have its Coders! See more about RSC at www.readysteadycode.ie

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