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What is Scratch coding & why do kids and educators love it?

Learn about MIT’s powerful and playful drag-and-drop block coding language!

Hannah Ballard, Mike Deutsch & Matthew Griffin
October 6, 2020

When schools closed in March, grown ups across Canada had to add “home school teacher” to their to-do list. While educators rushed to adapt to this strange new virtual world, KCJ saw a huge jump in traffic to our site from the search term “scratch coding.”

From our 7 years in the classroom, we know that kids and educators all love Scratch. Let’s take a look at why.

What is Scratch coding?

Scratch is an online platform where users can create games, animations, and stories. You can start with an empty canvas or remix an existing project, and share your finished creation with friends or even kids on the other side of the world!

Scratch was first developed in the MIT Media Lab by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group for kids aged 8 to 16. Scratch is a recognized programming language, but it requires no previous knowledge to use.

Just like LEGO, learners drag and drop blocks to build. These blocks contain code instructions that together form an algorithm. And the finished set of instructions? It’s a computer program!

The block-based tools inside Scratch encourage students to think computationally, communicate clearly and get creative.

Scratch is a superstar educational coding platform that has inspired many block-based environments. That’s no surprise, as Scratch is a direct descendant of Logo, the very first coding platform made for kids.

Some of the people behind Scratch have been making influential educational tools for decades. They use the principle of “low floor, high ceiling, wide walls.” Every challenge should be easy enough for all learners to access (low floor), is flexible for learners to take it further (high ceilings) and the freedom to let their creativity flow (wide walls).

We asked some of KCJ’s in-house Scratch experts to share their insights:

Why do kids love Scratch coding?

Mike Deutsch, Director: Education Research & Development

Kids love Scratch because it’s easy to jump in and make real things from their own imaginations. Scratch lends itself to so many different kinds of projects, most kids quickly find an idea that grabs them and start to pursue it.

But one of the things that keeps kids coming back to Scratch is how easy it is to play with the things that come from everyone else’s imaginations! Scratch has a creative social community built right in, and you can browse the projects that others -- all 50 million of them -- have built and shared. Not only that, but you can see the code inside, and borrow pieces or even a whole project to make it your own.

As a newcomer this means anyone can pursue their own ideas, and learn from and play with others.

Whether you’re into storytelling, visual art, or interactive games and puzzles, chances are there are Scratchers who can entertain and inspire you with the things they built, and get you excited about what you could build. Stick with it a little while and you’ll get that feeling, “Oh, I can do this too!” It’s an exciting moment when someone feels like they’ve become part of the Scratch community.

But it’s not just kids who have a lot to learn from Scratch.

You can see educational touches in Scratch’s design that make it easy to understand when you’re getting started as a coder.

Think of a new element that you want to add to your project (say, a story character, game piece, or button) and add it with a few clicks.

Think of something you’d like your project to do, and find the block(s) that might do that, right there in the easy-to-navigate, colour-coded block library.

Click a block, and your project carries out that instruction. You can immediately see whether it did what you wanted or not. Understand at a glance which kinds of instructions work together with which others, just from their shapes.

All these features make it easy for beginners and experts alike to tinker around in Scratch, adding and adjusting to a project that gradually gets closer to what they imagined.

Scratch makes math magical in the classroom

Matthew Griffin, Program Owner: Code Create Teach

Scratch has a well-deserved reputation for its flexibility in the classroom. It’s the go-to tool for storytelling, animation, text- and character-based block coding exploration. It is easy to engage with, and easy to problem-solve, making it perfect for teachers to guide their students to achievable “wins.”

An under-appreciated aspect of Scratch coding is its versatility. We can even use Scratch in the math classroom - an acute need, as we’re seeing the inclusion of coding outcomes with the introduction of Ontario’s new Math Curriculum.

Scratch, and coding generally, is a way to see mathematics differently. When we deconstruct a math problem down to its composite parts, can we recreate it using the language of Scratch? What can that tell us about the problem itself? For teachers, it’s a useful way to engage with a different type of learner.

In more advanced grades, Scratch can help to visualize math problems. Plotting curves becomes a richer learning experience when students can manipulate parameters and see their effect in real-time. Armed with these skills, students are well prepared to tackle real-world problems with data analysis. This plots more immediate practical underpinnings to often abstract subject matter.

Scratch can and should be a tool that unlocks the potential of coding in a classroom, and, more importantly, enhances other subjects, lessons, and techniques.

Scratch coding is for everyone

Scratch is the perfect springboard to start a coding journey. Whether you’re a seasoned programmer or coding newbie - embrace the co-learning experience! If you’re working through Scratch with a kid, why not try flipping the teacher role - and getting the learner to lead you through the platform?

Ask your small innovator to teach you how Scratch works. They may surprise you. One recent workshop attendee was so enthusiastic about Scratch, his grandmother promptly logged on, excited to learn how to code herself!

If you’re itching to get started in Scratch, why not check out our virtual Code Create Play classes? Taking place after-school, we add new sessions throughout the year to explore different topics and interests. Our Community Gallery and Resources page are also chock-a-block with Scratch ideas!