Author: Sean McManus
Publisher: In Easy Steps
Audience: Kids aged 12 and up
Reviewer: Harry Fairhead
Scratch - an easy language to learn but what do you do next?
One very good choice is to buy a copy of Cool Scratch Projects. I can't promise that you will like all of them, but you should find enough to inspire you to create something. The problem is that it is easy to get started with Scratch, but even though you might know how it works you need to have seen the sorts of things that you can do with seemingly unpromising facilities.
For example, take the first project in the book, Magic Mirror. It's a recreation of a distorting mirror of the sort that you might find in an amusement arcade or fair of yesteryear. Now the first question is how are you going to create a mirror using what you know about Scratch? There doesn't seem to be an easy way to do the job. However, if you have been programming for a while your mind will be turning to the ways you have done the same job on other platforms - this is the difference between a beginner and an experienced programmer. The trick is to notice that you can have a "hole" in a graphic which can be transparent. This allows the user to see what is behind it and if you place a copy of a sprite that is in front of it and make the two move together you have a mirror - or what looks like a mirror. There are lots of minor points you have to get right to make it work, but this is the basic idea.
The only problem is that the book explains how to implement the project without really revealing the thinking that went on before the project was started. How did the programmer know that it was possible to implement a mirror? Instead the user has to pick up the idea by following the implementation of the project. The other projects are explained in mostly the same way, without an insight into the thought processes that went to make the programmer conceive of the project.
No matter because, as long as you are prepared to follow the projects through and think about what you are doing, you should pick up the ideas - but it is a missed opportunity.
For me the inclusion of instructions for Scratch 1.4 just makes the discussion less focused - are there many people using 1.4 when 2 is so much easier?
Really all there is to say is what the projects are and how exciting - which is of course a subjective thing. The second project is Gribbet!, a challenge to conduct a chorus of frogs. Next we have a Drum Machine, a more obvious idea but one that is likely to attract its share of noisy wannabe drummers.
The next few projects are 3D. Using red and green glasses, included with the book you can create graphics that look 3D. How you react to the projects depend on how much you like the 3D. I can well imagine that beginners would love it. The first 3D project is Angry Aliens. a shooting game but in 3D. The second is 3D Artist. a short project that lets you create 3D designs and the final one is Space Mine 3D, in which you pilot a space ship to avoid obstacles. The important thing about these three projects is that it gives you a clear idea how to create 3D effects and you could easily be creative and modify other projects to include elements of 3D.
The remaining projects move away from the 3D glasses. Project 7 is a Maze Maker and Circuit Breaker This might not appeal to many as exciting and I guess it will probably be skipped on a first pass but do come back to it - it has a lot to teach you.
Project 8 and 9 is a 3D Maze Explorer. This doesn't rely on the red and green glasses, but instead creates a perspective display of the walls of the maze. It is a classic game and it is nice to see it included.
The final two big projects are slightly different. Sprites, Cameras, Action! makes use of a Raspberry Pi camera and Scratch to create stop motion videos. If you have a Pi then this is probably the most exciting project in the book. If you don't have a Pi then it's a good reason to get one. Project 11 is called Super Wheelie and it's a ScratchJr project which runs on Android and iPads.
The book concludes with a collection fo five short projects to round things off - a random music generator, abstract art generator, a shooting game, a digital scoreboard and a simple avoid the obstacles game.
Overall this is a good book - motivating, in full color and with plenty to encourage the beginner. If you are a teacher then you could do worse than to get a copy and "borrow" the ideas. If you are using Scratch on your own, not only will it give you something to do with your new skill, it will help you invent even more things to do.
Scratch Programming In Easy Steps
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