Thursday, May 17, 2012

3 Great Ways To Integrate Scratch Into an Upper Elementary Curriculum

I've been teaching Scratch programming to 4th and 5th graders for a few years now, and every year I'm slowly moving from teaching programming in isolation of the other subjects to integrating it with what we're learning elsewhere. Here is a list of Scratch projects and ideas that help enhance deeper understanding in other subject areas.

1) Enhance learning about the properties of regular polygons.

We start with a basic problem both with geometry and the programming environment: How do we make the sprite walk in a square, and come back to where it starts? In order to solve this problem, we need to understand the properties of a square- it's side and angle attributes. After we figure that out, we can ask, "How do we get the square to actually show?" This allows us to explore the "pen" group of commands in Scratch.
After we finish with a square, we can move on to designing other shapes: triangles, hexagons, octogons, decagons, etc. And because we want the sprite to move speedily, this introduces decimal numbers as a way to speed up and slow down movement. We can ask what is the relationship between 0.5 and 1? Test your thoughts by changing the wait time for each movement from1 second to 0.5 seconds. What is the relationship between 0.2 and 0.5? Many children when they first start will think that 0.5 is the faster number because it is higher. But the more you use Scratch, the intuition that comes from using the ‘wait’ command is formed in relationship with decimal numbers.

There are several areas to explore after this. We can calculate the perimeter of shapes, and introduce variables to control the length of sides (as in the program featured above).  Creating different regular polygons leads to an understanding of the degrees of a circle. We can use this understanding to create some fantastic designs, featured in this program:

2) 6 Word Story Telling: Exploring our personal narratives
I got this idea from reading through the invaluable Scratch curriculum document that was published in late 2011. The idea is to first explore "6 word stories," stories that are told in exactly 6 words. In our class, we focus on personal narratives for the first semester, guided by the Lucy Calkins writing workshop model. So one of our projects is to change one of our published personal narratives into a 6 word story, and change that into a Scratch digital story.

2)About Me: An introduction to Scratch and to Me
Again this idea is from the Scratch curriculum document. But it fits very nicely as an introduction to  our beginning-of-the-year Values unit. The idea is to show off our tangible values, but I think it would be interesting to explore our intangible values through Scratch story-telling as well. This project is the first that the children are exposed to, so it's fairly uncomplicated. Technically it focuses on using the dialogue commands, and editing sprites.

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