How families can facilitate collaboration when coding with Scratch
By Saskia Leggett and Kaitlyn Leidl
More often than not, getting started can be the most difficult part of working on a project. On the Scratch and ScratchJr teams, we’ve learned that the best ideas arise when we find ways to work together. For us, collaboration comes in the form of a diverse array of contributors, from designers and developers, researchers and children, to parents and engineers, working together to imagine new ideas, solve problems, and create projects.
As the Scratch community grows, we want to be sure that we support collaboration in all forms, including among family members at home. Working together with Scratch as a family can be an opportunity to engage creatively with your kids, explore shared interests, and learn something new about each other in the process. Computers and tablets don’t always lend themselves to collaboration, so we’ve created a list of tips to help you create together as a family. Whether you’re kicking off a project with your child or helping your child work with siblings or peers, use these tips to get started with your next great collaboration.
Tips for creating with your child
1. Find a dedicated time
Pick a time when you and your child can be together. You could either set aside an hour or two on a weekend, or take advantage of a rainy day or unexpected downtime. Whatever time you choose, try to minimize distractions to maximize being creative together. Consider picking a recurring time to cultivate routines that help you both get into a creative spirit.
2. Brainstorm ideas together
People are most most engaged when they pursue projects that are personally meaningful to them. What kinds of things are personally meaningful to you and your child? Spend some time thinking about or writing down ideas about what you both enjoy. You might want to create a story together, recreate a family trip, or create a project centered around a few items you love. One brainstorming method you could try is writing down as many ideas as you can on post-its within a set time period (3–5 minutes), then grouping the post-its and ranking them based on favorite choices.
3. Let your child drive
Learning happens best when literally experienced first-hand. Empower your child to control the mouse or keyboard to encourage them to try things out on their own. If you have to grab the tools to troubleshoot or point something out, you can ask them to try the steps again on their own to practice. If your child is particularly nervous about controlling the tools, you might offer the option of having your child spend some time brainstorming ideas or creating objects in the physical world that accompany your Scratch project before diving into hands-on experience.
4. It’s okay to not have all the answers
“Failures” are a natural and celebrated part of the tinkering process. Start your project with the mentality that you are both newcomers, learning and exploring together. With this mindset, “mistakes” and “failures” become opportunities for learning something new or unexpected, and you and your child will be able to practice fearless exploration. If you don’t know the answer to a question, you can work together to try to find a solution. You might stumble upon something surprising!
5. Learn from each other
There’s a lot to discover about your child, especially when approaching working together with a curious mind. You may uncover new interests, develop new routines, or reveal undiscovered skills. Be open to switching roles as well — your child can spend time as the leader or teacher, guiding you through the activity. Or, one of you may serve as the “creative director” while the other builds. Either way, make sure to give each other room to try different roles throughout your time together.
Tips for facilitating collaboration between siblings or peers
1. Help guide a brainstorming session
Any collaborative project can be difficult to get started. When overseeing a project between siblings or peers, help young programmers figure out what they want to create by guiding a brainstorming session and offering general ideas. Ask them what they are passionate about, or about a recent event that happened in their lives. Help them think of something they have in common, like a love for sports, or a favorite movie or book. Honing in on something personally meaningful to each programmer is a great place to start when planning out a Scratch or ScratchJr project!
2. Suggest unique roles
Since the Scratch programming environments exist on-screen, collaborating can seem difficult at first. However, if each team member has a unique role, everyone can contribute in their own unique and creative way. As the adult, you can assist young collaborators by suggesting roles based on their strengths, or assigning different tasks. Roles can include art director, planner, code-writer, code-reviewer/debugger, presenter, etc. If working with siblings or friends of different ages, ask the older programmer to navigate the younger programmer through more complex tasks. Celebrate each contribution — everyone’s work will be crucial in the final project!
3. Incorporate off-screen activities
We also recommend incorporating creative off-screen activities when working on a project. As the adult facilitator, you can help guide these activities by suggesting peers or siblings draw out their programs before creating them on-screen, or create a storyboard of what they want their project to be. Structure project creation by timing who gets to work on-screen, and switch the “head programmer” after an amount of time. You can also facilitate a “telephone” game, encouraging one child to start a project, then after 5 minutes, the next child adds their own ideas to it, and so on!
4. Encourage collaborative problem solving
Encourage children to solve problems they encounter on their own before seeking out parent help. Teach them the meaning of “troubleshooting” and “debugging,” and ask they they try at least 3 things together to solve the problem before asking an adult. This will help peers or siblings work collaboratively — they might be surprised what they can figure out together!
5. Foster older and younger sibling collaboration
If you have children of different ages, the older sibling might be programming in Scratch and the younger might be using ScratchJr — that’s wonderful! Older and younger siblings can both work in ScratchJr together, and that’s a great place to start collaborating. The older sibling can pass along programming tips, ask questions, and help the younger sibling decide what to create. Using the Paint Editor Tool, siblings can draw and take pictures of characters and backgrounds that are personally meaningful to them, and program a story they both care about. Suggest “story-starters” that they can both have fun with using ScratchJr, like re-creating a favorite family vacation, or incorporating family members into a fairy tale or movie they both love!
Saskia Leggett Outreach Manager for the Scratch Team.
Kaitlyn Leidl is DevTech Research Lab Program Coordinator at Tufts University.