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Teaching Computer Science Principles with Scratch at the Newark Free Library

Experience Level: Beginner

  • Presenter(s): Soumita Basu
  • Time: 2:30 - 3:20 PM
  • Room: 135 WHL

The changing landscape of digital technology in the 21st century calls for educational intervention in K-12 curriculum to better equip future citizens to competently face challenges in a demanding world which is increasingly becoming technology dependent. Scratch is a visual block-based scripting and programming language developed by the Media Lab at MIT. Scratch provides instantaneous visual feedback of the program’s logic by means of animated objects and interactive digital controls. It helps novices learn to program by using the “use-modify-create” pattern of engagement that helps learners transition from passive users through engaged modifiers to authentic creators. As part of the Partner4CS initiative, I worked on a team that taught CS principles and helped learners aged 8-13 (grades 4-8) create computational artifacts at the Newark Free Library in Delaware. This field experience had positive outcomes supported by enthusiastic and positive learner and parental feedbacks. Scratch is more relatable to young learners because its visual programming interface uses a representation that is closer to human language and has reduced syntax as compared to the more complex computing representation in traditional languages such as Java, C#, Swift, and C++. In Scratch, users drag and snap color-coded programming command blocks and immediately see the results of their work in the form of animated sprites in the project editor where scripts are assembled. The ease of such a block-oriented visual interface contributes to reduced cognitive load wherein the learner’s focus lies in logic, structure and execution instead of the technical complexities of writing programs via code. Scratch enables educators with modest technological expertise to teach computer science principles in classrooms.

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