January 29, 2012 § 2 Comments

Like many people, I’ve admired MIT’s Scratch for a long time. It’s a tool that makes it easy for kids to create simple games and animations. And, by design, it teaches some of the basics of programming and computational thinking along the way.

This approach is very much like Mozilla’s own Hackasaurus: invite kids to make something that excites them, and learning into the technology they are using to do the making. In fact, the Scratch approach really informed the ‘making is learning’ design philosophy that’s at the core of the webmaker work we’re doing at Mozilla this year.

Which is all to say, I see Scratch and Hackasaurus as cousins. And, as cousins, I think there is a great opportunity play together — for both to feed into the bigger picture goal of teaching and inspiring millions of new webmakers.

We did a first experiment in putting Scratch and Hackasaurus together at the Hive Tokyo Pop Up a week ago. The Tokyo Scratch community plus a handful of Mozilla people ran a combined workshop where kids used both tools to create a Scratch web page mash up. Concretely, we combined three things:

  • Step 1. A short Scratch workshop where kids created simple animations and uploaded them to the Scratch gallery site.
  • Step 2. A basic Hackasaurus Xray Goggles lesson where kids learned how to remix text and images on a web site.
  • Step 3. A ‘be a famous game designer’ exercise where kids embedded their Scratch movie into their favourite gaming web site.

The whole thing took only an hour, so it was necessarily very simple and limited. But it still built two important web making concepts — ‘the web is lego that you can take apart and remix’ and ‘the basics of telling a computer to do something’ — into a single hour. And the kids seemed to have fun. A number of them kept hacking for an hour after we’d finished the initial session.

Of course, the experiment was not without hickups. In fact, we had to iterate the process three times to get to what I described above. In the first two sessions, the Hackasaurus and Scratch teams taught separately and tripped over each occasionally. It was only in the third round where we had one Scratch and one Mozilla person teaching side by side in each session, which worked well.

I’m not sure where this goes. We might want to do the exact same thing again, especially if we can build local Hackasaurus communities in places where Scratch is also strong. Or, we might use as fuel to brainstorm a more ambitious vision of how Scratch and Hackasaurus can play together. Where ever it goes, it was a fun and good first step.

PS. Huge thanks to the Scratch Japan community for having the trust to try this experiment. I was both grateful and impressed. You and your team really rocked!

PPS. Kudos also to famous ‘Mexican’ wrestler Chris Lawrence for awesomely MC’ing the event.

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