ScratchJr

How has coding education evolved?  

Coding has been termed the language of the future.  In the 1980’s, when computers first became affordable for the general public, there was considerable interest in educating children about computer programming; however, during the 1990’s the internet boom changed the focus of educators and the interest in the education of children via coding almost completely vanished (Kauai & Burke, 2013).  The 2000’s have brought with it a revival of this interest.  Coding programs for children have gained considerable popularity with the introduction of tablets such as the iPad which makes computer interaction more palatable for little hands.  Coding applications designed for young children have made it possible to educate the youngest of children in computer programming.

How is coding relevant to education?

In 2006 computational thinking was defined by Professor Jeanette Wing as, “aspects of designing systems, solving problems, and understanding human behaviors” (2006, p. 6; Kauai & Burke, 2013).  Computer programming embodies the basis of thinking for all disciplines in education.  “Wing argued that understanding the world computationally gives a particular lens to understanding problems and contributing to their solutions.  Computational thinking, while often strictly associated with computer science, actually is better understood as extending computer science principles to other disciplines in order to help break down the elements of any problem, determine their relationship to each other and the greater whole, and then devise algorithms to arrive at an automated solution” (Kafai, & Burke, 2013).  This abstract notion of computational thinking is possibly better understood through an example given by Wing and described by Kafai & Burke (2013): “Consider cleaning up and sorting Lego brick pieces. If a child sorts the pieces as “all rectangular thick blocks in one bin”, “all thin ones in another,” and so on, computer scientists would call this hashing”.  Breaking the legos down into organized categories increases efficiency thus saving more time for creative invention (Kafai & Burke, 2013).  This ability to systematically think about problems and arrive at solutions is pertinent to all disciplines of education, making computer programming an important learning opportunity for all children.

What are the benefits of ScratchJr?

ScratchJr, an iPad app that teaches computer programming and is creatively designed specifically for children ages 5-7, has made tremendous progress in the challenge to bring computer programming and high level computational thinking to the youngest citizens of the planet.  The app gives young children the opportunity to independently explore the building blocks of design and creation at their own pace (Strawhacker, Lee, Bers, & Caine, 2015). “Multiple researchers cite the positive effect that learning computer programming and computational thinking can have on other skills such as reflectivity, divergent thinking, literacy, mathematics, and social and emotional development” (Clements and Gullo 1984; Clements and Meredith 1992; Flannery and Bers 2013; Bers, M., Portelance, & Strawhacker, 2015).  According to Strawhacker, Lee, Bers, & Caine (2015), ScratchJr is designed to encourage the following:

  • domain specific knowledge: literacy and mathematics
  • foundational cross domain knowledge structures: prediction and classification
  • complex problem solving skill: planning and testing solutions

How does ScratchJr teach coding?

Using a programming language that consists of programming blocks, children are able to create programming scripts by dragging and connecting the blocks like puzzle pieces to control the applications they create (Bers, Portelance, & Strawhacker, 2015).  The interactive stories and animations that children create via ScratchJr engage young children while also promoting  literacy and mathematics, as well as reinforcing problem solving and foundational cognitive skills (Flannery, Silverman, Kazakoff, Bers, Bontá & Resnick, 2013).  “Children who build a strong foundation in computational thinking competency can become more effective problem solvers and critical thinkers” (Wing, 2006; Flannery, Silverman, Kazakoff, Bers, Bontá, & Resnick, 2013).  In addition to the app, related curriculum and activities can be accessed on the ScratchJr website which make learning and teaching children how to use the app more accessible for parents and educators (www.scratchjr.org) (Strawhacker, Lee, Bers, & Caine, 2015).

What is the purpose in teaching young children how to code?

Coding applications designed for young children have made it possible to educate the youngest of children in computer programming.  Parents have the opportunity to integrate technology into their children’s lives in purposeful ways.  Apps which encourage purposeful use allow children to develop an appreciation for and enjoyment of lifelong learning. ScratchJr gives children the opportunity to learn skills essential to computer programming early in their lives.  Because computer programming embodies skills that are critical in all educational disciplines, its an important subject in the education of all children.

References

Bers, M., Portelance, D., & Strawhacker, A. (2015, July 9). Constructing the ScratchJr programming language in the early childhood classroom. Retrieved January 13, 2017, from https://ase.tufts.edu/devtech/publications/Portelance-2015-Constructing-ScratchJr.pdf

Flannery, L., Silverman, B., Kazakoff, E., Bers, M., Bontá, P., & Resnick, M. (2013). Designing ScratchJr: Support for Early Childhood Learning Through Computer Programming. Retrieved January 13, 2017, from https://www.cs.auckland.ac.nz/courses/compsci747s2c/lectures/p1-flannery%20Scratch%20Jr.pdf

Kafai, Y., & Burke, Q. (2013, September). Computer Programming Goes Back to School. Kappan 95, 61-65.

Strawhacker, A., Lee, M., Bers, M., & Caine, C. (2015). ScratchJr Demo: A Coding Language for Kindergarten. Retrieved January 13, 2017, from https://ase.tufts.edu/DevTech/publications/sjr-demo-idc2015.pdf

The ScratchJr App can be found here.

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