A new version of the Scratch programming language for use on the iPad has been designed to help teach young kids, who may not yet have learned to read, to create programs using a touchscreen interface.
ScratchJr is a free iPad app aimed at 5-7 year olds. Like the original Scratch language it has been developed by MIT Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten group along with researchers at Tufts University and the Playful Invention Company.
Professor Mitc Resnick, who has led the project since 2007 said:
"We wanted to make sure young people aren't just using tablets for browsing and consuming. This is a tool that they can use to get their voice out in the world, not just to consume what other people are doing."
As explained in the video below, for ScratchJr the interface and programming language have been redesigned to make them "developmentally appropriate" for younger children, with features to match young children's cognitive, personal, social, and emotional development:
The video also points out ScratchJr is about more than simply learning to program and that children will also be developing their maths, problem-solving and language skills and that:
“Children don’t just learn to code, they code to learn,”
Marina Umaschi Ber, professor in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development at Tufts and director of the Tufts’ Development Technologies research group, which co-developed ScratchJr explains:
“As young children code with ScratchJr, they develop design and problem-solving skills that are foundational for later academic success, and by using math and language in a meaningful context, they develop early-childhood numeracy and literacy,”
Funding for the creating ScratchJr came in part from Kickstarter where the original $25,00 goal was surpassed in the first two days of its campaign. Over $77K was raised this way though surprisingly backers didn't seem very interested in pledging $300 for the beta versions and only 36 of 100 offered were requested. More poplar was to pledge $50 for a post-launch webinar for educators and parents hosted by Mitch Resnick and Marina Bers.
By raising more than $60K the project is committed to producing an Android version of ScratchJr which is expected later in 2014 and a web-based version is also in the pipeline for 2015.
Unfortunately the next stretch goal of $80K, which would have funded development of resources and curriculum materials for parents and teachers, wasn't achieved, but hopefully the interest shown in ScratchJr will motivate such materials.
In the UK, from September programming becomes part of the national curriculum from age 5. ScratchJr seems an ideal way to introduce it into the primary school classroom. Whether school budgets will stretch to iPads in theses time of austerity is, however, a tricky question. Let's hope schools can adopt suitable BYOD (bring you own device) policies.