Scratch! and some thoughts on education

Shifting gears completely from real-world making to digital, I just spent more time poking around in Scratch.  My original goal was to play with Littlebits and Arduino, but I never got that far.

The first thing I wanted to do was create a situation where the user chooses between two options.  This is simple stuff, but I hadn’t done it yet.  Everything I’m doing is very simple, actually, but you have to start somewhere, and this is where I am!  So I made this little goofy thing:

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 6.39.02 PM

If you choose yes, all your dreams come true, and if you choose no, you are basically forced to eventually say yes.  Because cake is king.

Then, feeling all chuffed, I decided to tackle something a tiny bit more challenging: an actual game.

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 6.25.02 PM

Check out my fancy code.

Now, the results are kind of lousy because the random nature of the ball means that you really can’t strategize, and a game that you can’t get better at is no fun, BUT, I learned a LOT in making it.   I learned a bit more about variables; operators; motion; copying blocks of code into the Backpack (hello Backpack!  I love you!); using multiple Event blocks to my advantage (d’oh!).  Essentially, I learned more about some of the tools, in ways you can only really learn by testing them out and seeing what happens on the screen.  It was a lot of poking around, but it was the sort of thing where I completely lost track of time in that happy flow way.  There are many things I love about Scratch, but one that is super excellent is how you can click on a block of code and see right there and then on the same screen what it will make happen.  It makes tweaking easy and inviting.  I spent very little time looking at other people’s code and spent most of the time just figuring it out on my own, which means there are surely better ways to do it, but that’s okay.

So, now for the thought on education: TIME.  I think a big part of my summer being so amazing so far is that I’ve had these huge blocks of time to just explore and play.  I don’t know how different the results would be if I spent an hour each day working on something–I’m sure it would be much better than nothing and that I’d learn a lot, and maybe in some ways the time pressure would be motivating.  But what I’ve found is that, having these giant open evenings/nights has just been magical (there I go with that word again!).  I can shift gears a lot because I know I can come back to where I was; I can go off on tangents.  If I had sat down tonight with one hour, I would have started with the Littlebits/Arduino/Scratch stuff, since that was my official goal, and that would have been great, but what I did end up doing will ultimately make it more rewarding when I do get to that, since I now know more about Scratch.  I didn’t know I was going to make a game, but with all the time I wanted/needed and no pressure to be doing something else, it just evolved organically out of what I was doing.

So, my life right now (librarian with summers off; only one kid who is 13 and pretty self-sufficient) lends itself very nicely to this kind of play and learning.  I really want to find ways to transfer this to school–both my own working life (not so much in terms of what I’d be doing, because my job is typically not making stuff or playing, but in terms of how I structure my time?  I can’t articulate this yet), and moreso, to how I interact with and support kids.  I need to stop thinking of it in terms of the big blocks of time–I want to think of it that way because that is how I’m experiencing it, but my challenge to myself is to really figure out how to make this kind of thing happen with the one-hour time frame.  How to more easily access this mental space where I feel open and creative and curious.

I just bolded that because it was sort of a lightbulb moment for me.  Maybe I am using time as an excuse.  I am fundamentally a pretty lazy person, so it’s convenient to believe that if only I had more free time, I would accomplish more.  I do think having blocks of time is very valuable, for me and for kids, and I’m not backing away from that idea or anything, but it’s not our current reality, so I don’t want to fall into using it as an excuse.

I guess my question, ultimately, for myself is, “How do I maintain this intrinsic motivation to learn in the midst of extrinsic demands/structures/requirements?”  It’s not black and white, and my job has a lot in it that I am intrinsically motivated to do–I love my job and in spite of the great summer, I am missing the library and kids quite a bit sometimes.  But there is something about what is happening this summer that feels like a deepening of something that really started this past year, and I want to maintain the depth.

I don’t know if that makes sense.  I am kind of tired of listening to myself think, so I will shut up now!  Back to Scratch!

Edit:  Actually, I think it might be worth noting that there are a few extrinsic components.  One, a small grant to work on maker-related things this summer.  I’ve probably already spent the “required” number of hours working, but that little bit of accountability doesn’t hurt a sloth like me.  And also this blog, which I am using as a motivator–I’ve decided to document progress, and each day it’s a tiny kick in the pants to ask myself, “If you were to blog today, what would you write about?”  It doesn’t have to be maker-related, and I don’t have to actually blog, but just the idea of documenting/sharing at some point is a motivator.  So likely in terms of education, that piece of sharing what you are doing/learning is key.  I already know that, but I’m just connecting it with my current experience.

Now I am truly going to shut up!  My daughter is texting me!



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