Sunday, August 28, 2011

Children and Tech Series - Post #9

scratch, generousity and learning by taking things apart

Interesting things are brewing in my head as I play with Scratch. At first bewildering, the lego-like programming language of Scratch has become increasingly intuitive – which is crazy. Is this the way code-monkeys begin to think, once they’ve mastered more complicated programming languages. It feels like I’m just fitting pieces together to make a well tuned machine hum to life.

It’s pretty amazing how much is available in Scratch – and how generous the project is. Generousity is something that I’ve been thinking a bit about in terms of technology, and the ideas we’re visiting in this class. Technology, while being a consumer product and accessible only to those who can afford it, has the remarkable potential for built-in democracy and generousity. I think about the Facebook phenomenon of oversharing, and how we could reframe it as a human response mirroring the information overload provided by the Internet. Don’t we reflect our environments? The Scratch social networking site – where people upload the projects they’ve made with Scratch and publish the scripts that run it for everyone to see – is also an incredibly generous space. Learning by sifting through other peoples code is a really amazing way to figure out how to work the initially confusing array of things you can do with Scratchtasticness.

For me, it was a game called Egypt Pyramid, done by a kid somewhere and uploaded to the MIT Lifelong Kindergarten Scratch site for all the world to see. I downloaded Egypt Pyramid, not because it was a similar game to what we wanted to build, but because there were a lot of script and I wanted to learn how it had been done. It was really amazing.

By looking at someone else’s work, shared through a generous understanding that we often learn by what could in one way be looked at as copying or stealing, and in another way be seen as standing on the shoulders of giants, I felt like I gained some seriously deep understanding of how to work with Scratch. The rules became intuitive, the movements fluid, and it was after taking apart Egypt Pyramid and another game called Lemonade Stand that I felt strong enough in my understanding to start building our own. It was a powerful feeling – and also an interesting take on collaboration, copying and learning by doing.

In the first Scratch game I made, I used images and sounds provided by the program to see what I could do based on what they had. I used what I learned from my colleagues – the designers of Egypt Pyramid and Lemonade Stand – but not their specific codes. It was easy to see how to do what I wanted, which wasn’t anything like what they offered up in their own programming, after taking their games apart to see how they worked. It felt like I was tinkering in the best sense of Gever Tulley and Teacher Tom.

That’s my idea of meaningful learning. Well, one of them.

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