Introduction to ScratchJr

[Note: Updated, April 22, 2015]

What is ScratchJr?

ScratchJr is a tablet app that young children can use to create simple programs such as stories, games and animations.  The iOS app was released in July 2014 and was created by MIT and Tufts University. In April 2015, the Android app was released.

Despite the fact that MIT’s Scratch (http://scratch.mit.edu) is probably the most accessible programming environment for children, you might be looking for an even simpler coding learning environment, perhaps for very young children.  ScratchJr was created specifically for them.

Both environments allow users to move and connect coding blocks to control the actions of characters (called sprites) within a rectangular window (called a stage). Blocks are organized into different colour-coded categories; for example, one group of blocks control movement, another controls sprite size, and still others control when, and how many times, an event occurs. ScratchJr projects can be shared between iOS devices using AirDrop or between iOS and/or Android devices via email.

Is ScratchJr the iPad version of Scratch?

No, ScratchJr is not the iPad version of Scratch.  They are actually quite different when you examine the programming potential of each. ScratchJr would be more aptly characterized as “ScratchLite” or “SimpleScratch.” I have seen Scratch used by all ages of children in school, from K to 12, and very successfully.  Programs in Scratch can be incredibly simple or incredibly complex.  ScratchJr is only capable of fairly simple programs, and primarily narrative animations. However, ScratchJr works on mobile devices whereas Scratch does not. That’s great news for many classroom teachers and students alike.

What can students learn with ScratchJr?

The most important educational value of any programming environment is that it allows for the student to make their abstract thought processes visible on the screen. Once the thoughts are made concrete, they can be easily manipulated and controlled by the student in a more tangible way. And, because they are displayed visually on a screen, the teacher can also see what and how a student is thinking. Scratch and ScratchJr were designed so that this visualization is very clear; the code blocks appear as coloured boxes that snap together so that programs can be built (rather than using typed in commands, functions and statements).  The blocks are visual and can be moved around and placed with the mouse or finger.

What are some project ideas that ScratchJr can support?

Below are some example learning activities that I have designed with classroom teachers that I support. The students were all in primary grades (K-3) and usually worked in partners using one iPad. In Kindergarten classes, ‘reading buddies’ were rebranded as ‘tech buddies’ or, better, ‘learning buddies’ and helped only as much as the Ks needed it:

  • Create a coding challenge to a friend but also integrate math curriculum expectations (see videos below)
  • Organize procedural thinking into a concrete creation, such as a narrative (see video below)
  • Create a game in which the user has to touch a fast moving character in order to move to the next level
  • Use the built in x-y coordinate grid to create/test position pattern rules and transformational geometry concepts
  • Create a realistic or funny animation, such as a character bouncing a ball and throwing it into a basket
  • Use the voice record tool to create a word wall that reads the word out loud when touched by the user

Each of the above ideas has several connections to the Ontario Language Arts or Mathematics curriculum.  ScratchJr is an excellent iPad app because it is open ended, supports creativity, and has an intuitive user interface.  Plus it is free.

The ScratchJr web site offers many useful resources for teachers to learn more about how this app can be used effectively by students:

Curriculum Examples – Mathematics Expectations

Here are two examples of a learning task that included a social coding challenge as well as integration of The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1-8: Mathematics, 2005 expectations. In each task, students were asked to create a ScratchJr program on an iPad that ended with a coding challenge for their partner. The partner would take the iPad in the end and add the code needed to meet the challenge.  Then, the roles would reverse so that the first child was challenged. In each case, expectations from the Geometry and Spatial Sense strand of the curriculum were used.

Grade One

Grade Two

Curriculum Example – Language Arts  Expectations

Here is an example narrative created by a young child using the ScratchJr app.

Please comment and share

If you have used ScratchJr with students, please share your experiences in the comments section below or leave a link to your blog or web site.

This post was one of nine made during the #peel21st September, 2014 blog hop.  Make sure you check out the other eight posts:

29 Comments on “Introduction to ScratchJr

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  4. I was so excited when I saw the video earlier this spring but haven’t had a chance to explore yet. I’m hitting up twitter now to see if I can find a class to play in!

      • I can see that happening… Before version 2, Scratch was an installed application. Perhaps ScratchJr will evolve into a web-based app as well…

      • I think making Scratch Jr. online would be a great idea because, as I learned from reading about Code.org, the program could be set up for a class and each student’s project could be viewed, edited and given feedback by the teacher. The teacher could use a student’s project to model to the class and students who have completed projects could present to the class and, possibly, partners could play the finished games or activities together.

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  7. I think the games/activities in the blog are very appropriate for kindergarten to second grade students. The printed lessons for these activities give explicit instructions of how to teach the three different activities. These printed lessons are great examples for teachers designing new lessons and to help them use consistent language to teach students about coding to program activities. I find it very helpful to divide the tasks into Scratch Jr. Blocks Learned and Scratch Jr. Skills Learned. The assessment is also a great example of how to administer a quick assessment of student use of the program.

  8. I believe using Scratch Jr. gives students the opportunity to develop computer literacy in an integrated and different way. Using technology and being able to understand how programming works is a great strategy to integrate other skills that are fundamental in other developmental areas. Are there any recognized developmental stages for the use of Scratch Jr.?

  9. Very cool videos of the student work. I like that the games allow students to work together almost. I was wondering how you make games interactive in Scratch Jr since its’ not as complicated as Scratch, but I like the idea of handing it over to another student for them to solve the problem. And thanks for putting cirriculum framework that goes with some of the activities. Even if we aren’t teaching in Ontario, we can look up similar framework requirements in our area and see how this game or idea might work in our classroom. Thanks for putting this post together, it’s really informative!

  10. It was awesome to watch the young child narrate her story using ScratchJr. It definitely is a simple app that provides the opportunity to use their creative minds. It was great watching the video which incorporated math as well. It definitely has the element of providing children with a fun, interactive way to learn, that’s actually fun. The control is totally in their hands with creating whatever type of storyline or game that they’d like, rather than playing one that’s already been created.

  11. Thanks for sharing these awesome examples of student work. This post is a great resource for anyone who is looking to get their primary aged students coding in Scratch Jr. From reading your post, it seems like you’ve taught elementary aged students how to code using both Scratch and Scratch Jr. I’m curious about the transition between the two programs. Based on your experience, at about what age would you start switching students over to the full fledged Scratch?

    • Great question! (BTW – I haven’t really ‘taught’ students how to code… more like they watched me play and experiment with code blocks and have fun making something… My aim is inspire them to start playing, too, and then we have conversations about what they are doing with either Scratch or ScratchJr.)

      With respect to your question I would say “as soon as they can…or, want to…” Scratch 2.0 does assume the user is a little older, say 8ish but that is a gross generalization… ScratchJr has definitely been designed to suit a younger child’s developmental profile; nevertheless, I have still seen Scratch used quite well by students sometimes as young as 6.

  12. Thank you for this informative and helpful blog post! I now finally feel like I could justify the use of Scratch Jr. to an administrator or parent. I see in an earlier response that you wrote “I haven’t really ‘taught’ students how to code.” What I am wondering is do you think it would be helpful to display Scratch Jr. on some type of overheard projector in order to introduce the program or do you think it is best to just let kids “experiment” with it, without any prior introduction?

    • Thanks for your comment, Ashley… Yeah, I really look at tools like Scratch and ScratchJr like I would a large sandbox full of tools and containers and other things… Obviously, there needs to be a little bit of an introduction to a digital tool, tailored to the students and the context… but, as a general principal, I am hesitant to tell students what to do… I am happier having involved conversations and discussing their ideas and how they think they might be accomplished… Sometimes, they just want a quick answer, other times, it’s better to guide. I definitely use an LCD projector for the initial discussion/intro of the tool and a little bit of modelling… I usually do a lot of ‘thinking out loud’ as I am working so they both see and hear a process…

  13. This blog post was extremely interesting and useful. I really like how it broke down Scratch Jr’s uses in the classroom by content area as well as by grade level. Though I teach students slightly older than the range seen in this post, this helped give me some ideas on projects they could do in 6th grade with Scratch. Seeing examples of the students work was insightful, thanks for sharing.

  14. I am very excited about how closely tied scratch is to new media. Video games are the cutting edge of art right now. Coding is the root of this art form. Games are seeing blockbuster first day releases that rival the film industry. Coding and its results found on the Internet are becoming the primary forms of communication. Coding with scratch jr. is a way for young students to create complex presentations of their ideas that written words and hand drawn pictures never could. Coupling this with the problem solving, and planning skills involved in a program make it highly desirable for incorporating into a curriculum.

    Jim, I was wondering what you think a teacher should say to an administrator they are trying to convince to include Scratch jr., Scratch or coding in general into their teaching?

    • Hi Justin… thanks for your comment… and that is a very good question. I have had that exactly that talk with teachers and administrators… not so much to convince but more to garner even more support… I think code.org is an excellent resource in this case; there are ample video and textual materials from which you can draw to create a convincing argument. In general, though, it is my contention, and that of many researchers and educators, that coding environments designed specifically for children, are invaluable tools because they can be used by children to make their abstract thoughts more concrete, organized, and operable on a screen. As ideas are translated into code that form logical sequences of instructions, that code can be analyzed, shared, discussed, built upon, combined with other code, remixed, and so on. Coding has the potential to allow young children to think more powerfully, and to think about ideas in a why that might be very difficult otherwise (i.e., without the coding objects). This has been very well researched and documented and is based in the research of Piaget and Papert.

  15. I was excited to see that there are other coding programs like ScratchJr. for kids. I think it would be interesting for children to try a variety of learning tools and compare their benefits and disadvantages.

    One key fact that the Code organization exposed is that coding is universal. Spoken language no longer creates a boundary. I watched a number of the math videos, and I liked how both ScratchJr and Code.org can be used to teach direction, grid lines, and even how to model simple equations. I also appreciate that both are designed in puzzle formats to demonstrate relationship and dependency within types of actions.

    As a beginning programmer, I can attest to the importance of planning prior to and during the coding process.

    Concerning ScratchJr., I appreciate that the focus includes designing games, writing stories, and using picture collages to illustrate concepts. It is so important to see ideas in action.

    Thanks for posting the videos and informational links.

  16. Hi Jim,

    As an Educational Technology student new to Scratch and ScratchJr. I found your blog to be very helpful. And, you answered my question about whether there was any connection between the work of Piaget and the thinking that went into created both programs.
    After reading your blog and the posts and replys I better understand how Scratch and ScratchJr. is a form of free play and that a child’s imagination is encouraged and stimulated by the programs.
    A question: is Scratch or ScratchJr. being used by therapists who work with children?

    Best,
    Paula

    • Hi Paula,
      That’s an interesting question about possible use of Scratch or ScratchJr by child therapists… I have no firsthand knowledge about that but I have heard of Scratch being used as part of some therapies or as component of an IEP. For example, here is a link to a thesis describing how Scratch was successfully used as part of a therapeutic intervention with autistic children: http://affect.media.mit.edu/pdfs/09.Morris-thesis.pdf

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