Introduction to ScratchJr
[Note: Updated, April 22, 2015]
- App Name – ScratchJr
- Cost – Free
- Website – http://www.scratchjr.org/
- Tablets – iOS and Android
- Developed by – Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tufts University
- iOS Download – https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/scratchjr/id895485086
- Android Download – https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.scratchjr.android
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.
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: