Programming in Scratch: Reconsider Remixing
Scratch is my “first love” in the coding and STEM space. It became a HUGE component of my teaching and I’m not sure I would be doing a lot of what I am doing now without it frankly. I love how easy it is to use, and how fun it is. I love the games on it and the rabbit hole you can go down exploring it now.
I remember when I discovered it pretty clearly as well. I was in my first year of teaching. I had written a curriculum with four units: Graphic Design & Photography, Web Design, Programming, and Fundamentals (keyboarding, learning Google apps etc). I was also flying blind on half of it. If there is no better example of how much CS in elementary school has changed in the last seven to eight years its that there were very, very, few resources for me to fall back on in 2013 when I was building this class. I intentionally put programming at the end of the year because I was counting on figuring out what I was actually going to do by then - I had nothing.
I discovered ALICE first. I thought I had something. But as I explored it further (keep in mind this was 2013 ALICE not 2019) I realized for elementary kids who were about to embark on their first full year of “real” CS education, it might be a little much. It would have probably been a little much for me too. ALICE is awesome by the way, you should totally look into it. That’s when I discovered Scratch. It was just about to take the leap from 1.0 to 2.0 and was becoming a real thing in the coding space. I saw the games and block based coding and the low barrier to entry and realized I had just hit the motherlode. I had found my platform! I was so excited to use it that I bumped programming up to the third unit and the rest is history - I spoke at ISTE 2018 last year about my year-long game design project for Grade 8 that uses Scratch. That project is the culmination of years of research and hours and hours of work. One of the best things I’ve ever done. All thanks to Scratch being an amazing tool for teaching and learning.
Simply put, Scratch is a block-based coding platform. Many consider block-based programming to be basic but I couldn’t disagree more. Take a look at this game and tell me it’s not as good or better than many iOS games you find these days:
The complexity of this programming is amazing, and the best part is you can SEE INSIDE and take a look at exactly how it is made. Scratch created pathways for educators and students to take what they loved in gaming and create games themselves with little to no barriers to entry. You can use Scratch on almost any device. There are tons of resources to help students progress from basic code that draws a shape on the screen, to something like Bubble Jump.
In Scratch there is a feature that allows you to save a copy of someone else’s program and modify it. They call it remixing and I love it. Remixing isn’t a new term. We commonly associate it with music. This is the idea of taking a song, or a sample of a song, and re-purposing it in new music. Remixing has been around forever. There are a ton of benefits to remixing, not the least of which being that you don’t have to create a whole bunch of new stuff from scratch. Remixing is also a TON of fun:
I credit discovering this video to Lisa Anne Floyd. She uses it in some of her talks and I find it absolutely hysterical. She does amazing work by the way. Check it out here: https://lisaannefloyd.com/
In advance of my students doing their Grade 8 project - the Game Design Challenge - I had them do a remixing assignment in Grade 7. I think the remixing process is incredible in a number of ways:
It’s Inspiring - When you ask students to remix, you’re asking them to explore Scratch and play all the games you find there. They get a chance to see the awesome work other creators are doing. There are some incredible games out there covering every topic you can possibly imagine. Every student finds something that they enjoy. Once they find that they get fired up about the idea of tinkering with it to learn more.
It’s Aspirational - Students RARELY choose weak or poorly made games to remix. They gravitate to the games they enjoy, yet see opportunities to improve, or modify to fit a theme or style they enjoy. Students don’t just see a good game though, they see what is possible. THIS is about the time they realize that they can build almost anything they want in Scratch and that the perception that Scratch is a “basic” coding platform is simply untrue.
It’s Challenging - It almost all cases, the best games are also some of the more complex games to program. Take a look at the code below - it’s pretty intense! The complexity of the games chosen in the remix assignment reminds students that programming requires persistence, attention to detail, and hard work.
It’s a Diagnostic - It also reminds students to not bite off more then they can chew when it comes to their Grade 8 project. My remixing assignment is an amazing formative assessment on where students stand in their overall programming competency. I’ve had students completely fail at remixing, only to come back the next year and absolutely CRUSH their Game Design Challenge project because they learned so much about themselves and their capabilities. Because the Game Design Challenge is not about making the most complex game but about making the best game they possibly can based on their skills and talents, the remix assignment calibrates their expectations perfectly so they come into Grade 8 with a clear vision of what they can, and cannot do.
I hope you’ll consider remixing an important part of your programming and game design curriculum.
I’d like to help you out a bit. I’ve uploaded some of the documentation I used for my remix assignment to my learning portal. Feel free to check it out, use it, REMIX IT. I’d love it if you added to it anything you think brings value and feel free to share it with me. I think you will find that if you insert remixing into your plans, your students will enjoy coding more, get a lot more out of the experience, and in the end make better games!