Coding Tools That Empower the Scratch and Minecraft Generation
By Ed Schmit, Executive Director AT&T Mobility
When I was in school many years ago, those of us in the computer club had to talk about coding on the sly to prevent the wrath of bullies. Times have definitely changed. Now, some schools offer regular classes where kids learn languages like Scratch.
For those of you who may not have heard of Scratch, it is a visual programming language that makes it really easy for kids to code. Using event driven programming, kids connect active objects together (called sprites). No SDK or anything is needed—the work is all done in the browser.
Minecraft Smoothes the Path to Learning Scratch
Scratch was created by the MIT Media Lab Lifelong Kindergarten Group to enhance the development of technological fluency for the economically disadvantaged. To get started, visit the main Scratch page and start working in the stage area (an empty part of the screen where you can add things). Users can either pick their own images and background or import them. There are plenty of options to allow kids to indulge their creative sides.
To animate the images, use one of the three tabs to the right of the stage area: scripts, costumes, and sounds. Users start by pulling sprites from the Scripts tab. The categories are motion, looks, sound, pen, data, events, control, sensing, operators, and more blocks. It was really easy and fun for me to animate one of the sprites. It’s easy to see how kids will enjoy this tool.
Similar to Minecraft, kids initially get comfortable with the simple sprites in Scratch and then by looking at what others are doing, they learn to create some complex sprites. The tool is particularly inviting and it’s easy to get help.
Engaging Coding Tools for Kids
There are a few other new, simple coding tools.
- Alice: Designed by the University of Virginia (then later by Carnegie Mellon), Alice is an original object-oriented language. This is more complex than Scratch, but again extremely visual and straightforward—devs just need to connect tiles that represent logical structures. There were some nice tutorials, including one on Garfield (for those who love orange cats). Alice is more powerful than Scratch, and I could see kids graduating to this.
- Daisy the Dinosaur for the iPad: Created by the same group that made Hopscotch, this app lets kids create their own games. Ideal for younger kids, Daisy the Dinosaur uses simple blocks to start creating games. I could see smart kids as young as four or five using this and imagine there will be many more apps like this to come (Patty the Pig, Mary the Marsupial, etc.).
Tools like these will have a profound effect on the future. Many more people (already interested in similar visual tools) who are looking to learn to code could use that as an extension of their creativity. More development tools (such as AT&T Flow Designer) are being created like this. Some of these visual tools are necessary because of the breadth of knowledge developers need to have these days. It seems like there may be a set of developers who are object builders, and then a large set of new developers who are a combination of developer and designer—that use a future set of visual tools.