Last July I attended to the SCRATCH@MIT conference that took place at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts. People from all over the world met during three days to share their experiences as players, users, teachers, developers, researchers, and fans of this new programming language and online community created by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group. It was very interesting to see how a worldwide community that usually interacts on the internet can meet in a geographical location to participate in hands-on workshops, listen to diverse presentations, and discuss about what are children and youth learning when they create and play with SCRATCH.
Before I tell you more about how the NML (New Media Literacy) social skills and cultural competencies can be situated in SCRATCH, let me explain more clearly what SCRATCH is. First of all, it is a programming language made for helping children and youth create and design interactive projects and learn how to program with out having to deal with complicated syntax. Instead of writing code using many symbols and parenthesis –as you do when programming in C++, java, or python– you can just snap and drag visual blocks in SCRATCH as if you were playing with LEGO and create projects such as games, maps and animations. Therefore, programming becomes more playful and fun with SCRATCH and allows kids and teens to think creatively and solve design problems. (The program works in Mac and Windows, is in many languages, and can be download it from: http://scratch.mit.edu/download)
Second, SCRATCH is an online community where all the members publish, remix, and share their projects, discuss and learn about their experiences in forums, and build networks of friends and collaborators. In other words, the SCRATCH online community is an “affinity space” like the ones described by James Paul Gee, in which people learn (informally) through participation. The community has grown very fast and after one year of being online has reached 149,286 registered members and nowadays displays 200,273 projects –the 15% of these projects are remixes of other ones.
As we can see, both at the community and the programming levels SCRATCH can be connected with the research and frameworks that Project NML is developing. SCRATCH is a technology of communication that is allowing children and youth to think creatively, to actively participate, communicate, and to informally learn. The presentation “Situating the NML skills in SCRATCH,” (download the slides in pdf format) showed how the new social skills and cultural competencies can be learned while participating in the online community and while creating projects with the programming language. For instance, the “play” skill is learned while you build, debug, or tinker a SCRATCH project; the “appropriation” skill is learned when you remix a project that has been made by another user or when you sample images or sounds in your designs; and the “networking” skill is learned when you make friends in the online community, comment on their projects, and exchange ideas and critiques. In addition, the presentation showcased two NML learning activities that use SCRATCH as the basic tool to create a fan video (Manny Manny) and community interactive maps (Lawrence maps).
[This entry was cross-posted at the Project NML blog]