Thanking MIT Scratch

I wrote in January that computers might have become too complicated to be used effectively for teaching kids how to program. I learned how to program on a very simple computer that had BASIC as the only way to interact with it; even to load a game I had to know how to type in a command.

As I look back at my early computer learning experience I recall learning the skills that are useful in life even if one never becomes a software developer per se. For example, I learned a scientific approach to experimentation — knowing what the machine could do, I would try to make it do something interesting and if it fails I would make observations, correct my experiment, and try again. I learned to identify patterns and processes and systems in just about everything I saw.

So that said, I am excited that my soon to be 7 year old daughter is excited about learning to program using MIT Scratch. This interest comes on the hills of her loving to read, so I bought her “Super Scratch Programming Adventure!” book. The book is structured in a way that a young kid can understand. Each chapter starts with a comic strip about something about the programming task ahead, followed by very clear and easy to understand tutorial on how to make a simple 2D computer game.

Between the book and the wonderfulness of MIT Scratch she is learning what the machine is capable of doing, she tries, she thinks about ideas, she looks at other simple games and talks about components — sprites, processes, objects, keyboard and mouse controls, communication between objects. She is watching a Disney Tinkerbell cartoon and she asks me questions about computer animation (“Is Tinkerbell a 3D sprite?”) She is learning the scientific method — she knows what the machine can do, she feels confident to poke around MIT Scratch and try new things, she doesn’t get discouraged when she fails, she makes observations, and she tries again.

As a father this makes me very proud. When my son is a little older I am going to try and get him involved as well. For now, my daughter takes pride in the fact that her little brother enjoys the Scratch game she just made for him (and he asks to play those games). She loves it when I tell her my friends and coworkers find her “FSM Pasta Drop” game cool. She asked me yesterday what it would take to put her game up on the App Store and sell it (needless to say it is so she can save money and buy more accessories for her American Doll). Just a few months ago she saw her elementary school teacher as the ultimate career role model, and yesterday on a walk in the park she was saying maybe she’ll work for Disney-Pixar on computer animations (on “Sofia the First” or “Cars”).

So, thank you MIT Scratch team for the wonderful learning experience for both my kids and me. You are doing an amazing thing for the young kids of the world.