This July would be the 3rd biennial Scratch Conference held at MIT and the 3rd time I would be participating as a presenter. Despite the familiarity was I excited? Of course, the familiarity adds to the experience! In fact it was as a result of my involvement in the conference and connection with the Scratch Team that I became connected with LEAD. And 3 years on here I am representing LEAD at the Scratch Conference. Nothing is coincidence and things do seem to move in cycles. So here I was once more and walking up to register I was greeted by familiar faces belonging to both the Scratch Team as well as other participants: it's quite a family affair.
Karen Brennan and Mitch Resnik opened the conference with a wonderfully relaxed
reﬂection on the evolution of Scratch over the past 5 years. The passion and commitment of the Scratch team to helping young people and educators discover the joys of learning through creative thinking and imaginative play never cease to humble and inspire me at the same time. The opening keynote was powerfully simple and set the tone for what was to come: Scratch 2.0, Scratch Junior and Kinect with Scratch on a Mac! For sure these were the highlights of the conference for me..
Scratch 2.0 looks amazing in beta form and the possibilities of what young programmers are going to be able to do could very well be endless. At the moment it is all online rather than as the familiar standalone download so the whole interface design and interactivity is completely different. This is naturally going to cause debate with people applauding on the one hand and complaining on the other - personally I like it as I feel it provides a much
greater degree of ﬂexibility as well as accessibility and choice. Building straight onto the page and within the web environment itself allows for the integration of a webcam so Scratchers can physically interact with the games/simulations/stories they build. This is huge and whilst it's not as powerful as Kinect, it is a signiﬁcant upgrade. More about Kinect shortly!
Scratch 2.0 now also allows users to design and build their own blocks which in turn allows procedures to be named. These two features should also help to reﬁne scripts and make them more elegant and together with the cloning feature, open so many creative and advanced programming opportunities Scratchers will be delighted. And then there is the backpack feature which allows users to take segments of scripts from other Scratcher's projects and carry them away to use and/or remix. All of these developments are awesome and I can't wait for the end of the year when Scratch 2.0 is due!
Moving on, Scratch Junior is being developed by a team from Tufts Dev Tech Research
Group headed by Marina Bers in collaboration with Mitch Resnik. Again it is in beta but I had the opportunity to talk with Louise Flannery and test-drive the interface on an iPad. It was outstanding and once again I can't wait for it to be launched, however this could be a couple of years away. What immediately impressed me about Scratch Junior was how intuitive the interface was and once I began exploring, I discovered how much potential it had. For sure there are Scratch trademarks in this version but it deﬁnitely has its own identity and from what I saw, is going to deﬁnitely build the bridge to allow young learners to dive into Scratch.
Running on an iPad, Scratch Junior allows young users to drag and drop blocks and
sprites much in the same way as it currently does in full-ﬂown Scratch; the difference being that they are directly "interfacing" with the environment through touch rather than via a mouse. For young learners this is going to be a winner. Some of the features I consider worthy of note are:
that the blocks ﬁt together horizontally and illuminate as they run,
that the stage has a grid on/off feature and as you run scripts, the movements of the sprites are tracked on the stage,
that there are a range of Control blocks which allow loops and forks to be explored.
And ﬁnally there was Kinect with Scratch on a Mac being showcased by the charismatic
Stephen Howell and his Japanese collaborators; Nobuko Kishi, Manabu Sugiura, Kazuhiro
Abe and Daisuke Kuramoto. Due to the complexities of having to work in Java which does not speak well to the Mac OS, Kinect on a Mac has been more or less a dream until recently. However thanks to the Japanese team there is now a temporary bundle which can be downloaded and which plugs straight in to the developers package. The latter has to be downloaded from the Apple site before anything will work.
What installing the Kinect bundle does, is to allow Scratch to access body conﬁgurations so that scripts can be built which include physical movements and games designed around these movements. Once again the potential is huge and the possibilities endless. This is something I am deﬁnitely going to be pursuing and have already been in discussion with Stephen about developing a project between us.
And that more or less wraps-up the highlights of the Scratch Conference 2012 for me. I am very much looking forward to continuing the conversations and working with LEAD as we explore new ways of bringing Scratch into Hong Kong schools. We have a lot to do but stealing a phrase from Seymore Papert, it's going to be fun!
Written by:Jane Harris