Scratch is one of my all-time teaching tools. It’s a powerful (and free) programming language specifically designed for children. It’s so simple that even children in junior primary school can use it.
This term, my Year Six students have been learning about probability and statistics. We have completed traditional hands-on maths activities involving dice, coins and spinners. However, we have also written short Scratch programs that involve random events. The engagement that the students have shown with the Scratch projects —- not to mention their depth of understanding —- has been breathtaking.
In a classic example of ‘hiding the vegetables’, my students think that they are being allowed to play and create video games in class. In reality, though, they are learning a mountain of different mathematical, logical and creative concepts. Here are some examples:
Student-created: Relative frequencies when rolling a die.
Dru created this Scratch app to keep track of how often each number occurred when you roll a six-sided die. He also included some special surprises: When you roll a five, Scratch the Cat changes colour. And when you roll a two, he dances!
Teacher-created: Simulation of two-up coin game.
This is a Scratch program that I wrote to show the most likely outcomes in the Australian coin game called ‘two-up’. Students can view the simulation in their web browser and then download the project and open it in Scratch to see how it worked (the 21st century equivalent of pulling a motor apart).
Student-created: Relative Frequency Bar Chart (or ‘Cat Race’)
Rochelle’s Scratch project consisted of a race between six cats. When the user presses the space bar, a random number is generated and that cat moves. One beautiful touch that she added was a multi-coloured trail behind the cats which magically forms a bar chart of the numbers that have been generated.
This project builds on Rochelle’s idea of using sprites (moving characters) to build a graph. However, it uses two dice and includes an on-off button to hide the sprites. As students watched this, I could see the lightbulbs turning on: All of a sudden, they could a visual link between probability, geometry, number and statistics.
Want to get started using Scratch?
Download a free copy of Scratch from the MIT lifelong kindergarten site. Then visit the Scratch Support page to watch free video tutorials and download Scratch cards containing simple worked examples.
One warning: Scratch is addictive! It’s a great example of ‘hard fun’ —- the type of activity that makes learning enjoyable for children and adults alike.
Scratch is available free for Windows, Mac and Linux.