Much of the discussion about educational technology these days focuses on new ways to deliver instruction, through online videos and online courses. In our Lifelong Kindergarten research group at the Media Lab, we have a very different approach to education and learning, developing technologies not to deliver instruction but to open opportunities for people to create, collaborate, experiment, and express themselves. With our Scratch programming software, for example, young people can create their own interactive stories, games, animations, and simulations, then share their creations with one another online. In the process, young people learn to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively – essential skills in today’s society.
Last week, we had an opportunity to see how this learning approach is taking root in different parts of the world, as we hosted our third Scratch@MIT conference. More than 400 educators, researchers, and developers from 31 countries came to the Media Lab for four days to share stories, plans, and visions about Scratch.
One unifying theme at the conference was the use of Scratch to encourage and support many different types of connections:
- Connecting with ideas. In one of the keynote sessions, five educators and five third-grade students from a school district in New York demonstrated how they are using Scratch as part of a “computational thinking” curriculum unit, highlighting how programming activities can provide opportunities for students to engage with important math, science, and engineering ideas. Students weren’t just learning Scratch; they were learning with Scratch.
- Connecting with interests. In session after session, it was clear that the best Scratch learning experiences happen when people have an opportunity to build on their own interests. There were examples of young people using Scratch to create simulations of environmental issues affecting their communities, games featuring characters from their favorite books, and animated stories with original soundtracks.
- Connecting with the physical world. Increasingly, Scratch projects are stretching off the computer screen, connecting to sensors, motors, and other devices in the physical world. A researcher from Ireland demonstrated a way to use Microsoft Kinect to control Scratch projects with body gestures, while researchers from Japan introduced a low-cost sensor board for controlling Scratch projects.
- Connecting with people. Many sessions at the conference highlighted the social nature of learning. Some presentations described how young people in different countries are collaborating on projects through the Scratch online community. Other presentations showed how educators are creating Scratch sub-communities within their countries.
Although the Scratch@MIT conference happens only once every two years, our research group is always working to nurture, sustain, and extend all of these connections. The ScratchEd website enables educators around the world to share stories, exchange resources, and connect with one another. And later this year, our group will launch a new generation of Scratch, called Scratch 2.0, that will enable people to create projects directly in the web browser, opening new opportunities for creativity and collaboration with Scratch.
Mitch Resnick is Professor of Learning Research and Director of the Lifelong Kindergarten research group at the MIT Media Lab.
Karen Brennan, a PhD student in the Lifelong Kindergarten group, chaired the organizing committee for the Scratch@MIT conference.