Scratch “Create Your World” Conference Reflections
After attending a conference, I like to summarize my thoughts and document the resources I’ve gathered. It takes some time, but I take pretty good notes and the thoughts usually flow. As I try and wrap-up my time from Scratch@MIT 2012, I am struggling with the words. It’s certainly not that I didn’t get a lot out of the experience, because I did. I gathered all the usual suspects from this conference - new ideas, connections, inspiration and some cool tricks to try at home. But this conference was different and there is something else that’s come home with me.
One difference is that I attended with my 14-year-old son. I could not have asked for a better experience for him - subway navigation, MIT campus exploration and interactions at the conference that have sparked his creative juices. During the keynote session with Connie Yowell & Jan Cuny, I was reminded that many students don’t get the opportunities my son has because the adults surrounding them don’t know how to make the connections from their interests to career pathways. Too many students don’t get to even realize that computing is an interest because CS is simply not taught in their school and, of course, these students are disproportionately minorities from low income families. This really shed light for me on the whole "badges" initiative as a way to help make the pathways & connections transparent and equitable.
What really hit home for me, is that there are amazing tools like Scratch to help bridge this gap, but that the pathways to get this tool into the hands of students often isn’t schools. For instance, Connie Yowell said that the MacArthur Foundation doesn’t want to try out innovative programs in schools because of the high-stakes testing environment and Jan Cuny said that high schools won’t even consider adding a new subject unless it’s AP CollegeBoard approved, so that’s why they are targeting their limited funds to the CS 10K Initiative.
The format of their keynote was very different. Each spoke for a few minutes about their perspective projects and ideas about computation, culture, creativity, engagement, stereotypes, etc. then Mitch Resnick asked them to respond to some pretty open-ended questions. This is where things got interesting because while they are both extremely passionate about seeing changes in the computational culture space, they also have different approaches and because this space is so obviously neglected and misunderstood by the powers that be, there is clearly some tension between the two approaches. It’s frustrating. They are frustrated and I’m frustrated for them and for myself. I think that’s what I brought home from this conference that is hard to deal with.
On the other hand, they were also passionate and hopeful. It’s hard not to be passionate and hopeful in the MIT Media Lab space, surrounded by so many inspiring educators. The manager in me whispers, all these frustrations are really just opportunities and there were plenty of ideas and work shared that could fill those opportunities:
I really enjoyed the Ignite presentations, but they did flash by very quickly. I wasn’t able to get notes on all of them, but here is what I did note:
- Joanne Barrett shared that requiring CS in 7th grade helped change gender perceptions about it. Before starting, all of the boys thought it sounded fun, most of the girls thought it would be boring, but 90% enjoyed and that surprised them.
- @JanetLDee shared about picking one place to start introducing Scratch into an existing practice, instead of making an all or nothing decision.
- @MsVeraDLeon shared about after school programs in Mexico where she introduced kindergardeners to Scratch, just to mess around with, but the children began learning programming on their own.
- @pks shared the 10 things he learned from creating an after-school Scratch club including facing gender bias from parents & that computer skills vary, but not by age.
- Vicki Gold shared about her experiences of using Scratch with students with Aspergers.
- Joseph Jones shared about his experience of leaving his middle school students with a Scratch project while he had to be away for a few weeks and being shocked when he returned to see what they produced without his help (and while the substitute slept).
- @reesegans and I got to strategize about #CSK8 and some things we’d like to recommend to CSTA to help open up this pathway.
- @saorog shared Kinect2Scratch along with educators from Japan who used it as a platform to reach out to MS & HS girls. The nature of programming with Kinect2Scratch means that working in pairs is best.
- I finally caught up with @hoosjon and @epaynemls, local Charlottesville educators eager to give Scratch a try in their learning environments.
- I attended SNAP! A Grownup Programming Language Based on Scratch with Brian Harvey because I wanted my son to see how Scratch does relate to next steps in college. I had heard Dan Garcia at #CSIT2012 talk about the Beauty and Joy of Computing, which I think is such a great idea. I was very happy to find SNAP! worked on my iPad (I think this is actually a pretty big hole for Scratch 2.0, especially considering all the 1-1 iPad programs). I found a little tension in this room too as some people wanted to really nail down what the “right” programming language was for “serious” computer science classes. I feel like that distinction is not really important for these courses and these tools that are really just trying to introduce computer science to a majority of students who have never even encountered it before.
- The session where I learned the most cool tricks was Getting into the Digital Music Game with Scratch with Jesse Heines. I had no idea Scratch could deliver the kind of sounds I was hearing in that workshop. Turns out setting turbo speed is the key. Also, the connection between music and computational thinking is made very concrete with Scratch. Can’t wait to try out my own compositions.
- Xander & I attended the Getting to Know Scratch 2.0 and I loved seeing Mitch Resnick present the new features with kid-like enthusiasm. We are both looking forward to procedures, cloning, cloud data & video sensing. Xander already has his first game planned out!
- Many more ideas were shared with the twitter hashtag #ScratchMIT2012
I hope to take my own frustrations and turn them into action. One area that I think we all need to help act on is finding the pathways that allow students to experience the power of computing and empowers them to make connections from their passions and interests to their next steps. We need to document the pathways we’ve forged, so others can share them, doing our part to help grow the influence of the computational culture from the ground up.