Computer Clubhouse Mentoring

Flagship Computer Clubhouse LogoI’m going to be volunteering this summer as a mentor at the Computer Clubhouse Flagship location at the Museum of Science. The Computer Clubhouse provides free creative technology access, guidance, community, and inspiration to area kids ages 10-18, especially kids from low income families without ready access to these things. The flagship Clubhouse was founded by Natalie Rusk, Mitch Resnick, and others from the MIT Media Lab during the 90’s, and since then the Clubhouse network has grown (thanks in part to a partnership with Intel) to over 100 locations worldwide. The Clubhouse’s philosophy is a perfect fit for mine, since the emphasis is on encouraging the kids to pursue their own projects deeply and to learn in that context. Mentors, which is what I’ll be, accompany and guide the kids in their explorations rather than “teaching” in a traditional sense.

I’ll be there every Friday once their summer schedule starts in July, but in a couple of preliminary visits I’ve already met some amazing kids making videos, recording music, and doing Scratch programming. (Scratch was actually developed for use in the Clubhouse network, I learned!) I’ve also met some amazing staff, like the current clubhouse manager Jackie Gonzalez and coordinator Kaz Okeyo, and former clubhouse manager Rosa Alem├ín. I learned about very cool clubhouse events they’ve organized in the past, like participation in the Illuminus Boston public art project and a “World Builders” project that Rosa organized where the kids worked together to define the backstory of an alternate world and then create physical and electronic projects to flesh the world out into an interactive LARP experience. So cool.

I’m really looking forward to being a part of the Computer Clubhouse. I love it when people work toward technology access not just for school performance or economic impact, but for creativity, community, and meaning.

Generative Art Experiment-a-Day in Scratch

I’m working on developing an “Art in Scratch” curriculum to run at Muckykids. Making art — especially generative/procedural art, but also storytelling, sound, and more — is a very engaging way into programming for some kids. Scratch is perfectly suited to introducing programming through the lens of art.

Generative Art in ScratchI particularly enjoy trying to make surprising visual effects emerge from as few lines of code as possible and simple user interactions. In support of developing my Art in Scratch curriculum, and just because it’s fun, I’m trying to do a quick generative art experiment every day. I’m collecting them in a Generative Art Experiment-a-Day studio. Check ’em out and remix!

Fifth grade Scratch unit is up and running (and pre-assessment findings…)

Fellow Baldwin Scratch Club runner Bob Gillig and I have been working with the Baldwin 5th grade teachers to conduct a Scratch-based unit in their classroom. The idea is to “sneak” computer science and Scratch exposure into the regular curriculum by having the kids do a social studies report in the form of a Scratch project built from templates we built for them. This eases the novices into Scratch while allowing the kids who have more prior experience to serve as empowered/expert peer guides. We kicked it off this past Friday with an intro session which the kids seemed to enjoy.

I have a particular interest in helping kids see computers as creative tools. So, as part of the kickoff we gave the kids a brief attitudinal survey as a pre-assessment. The survey asked their gender and prior experience with Scratch, then asked them to what degree they agreed with the statements “I can use computers to make things” and “I could be a computer programmer.” Graphs of the results are below.

Scratch 5th Grade Pre-Assessment Findings: Survey results from 44 5th graders at Baldwin School, Cambridge, MA.
Scratch 5th Grade Pre-Assessment Findings: Survey results from 44 5th graders at Baldwin School, Cambridge, MA.

I thought the very strong correlation between prior Scratch experience and feeling that “I can use computers to make things” was a great sign that Scratch is successful in its role as an empowering creative tool.

Also notable is the unfortunate correlation between gender and agreement with “I could be a computer programmer.” Here’s hoping our Scratch unit helps even that out in some small way. We shall see when the post-assessment data comes in!

Harvard Magazine article surveys Cambridge ed tech efforts

Harvard Magazine Cover - Rebooting the ClassroomThe cover article of this month’s Harvard Magazine was about Ed. Tech with a nice Cambridge/Harvard focus. The article, Computing in the Classroom by Sophia Nguyen, focused heavily on Scratch (and the ScratchEd community) as a champion of constructivist learning. She definitely put her finger on the things I love about Scratch. And it was great to see folks like Karen Brennan and Michelle Chung of HGSE and Ingrid Gustafson of CPSD get coverage for the excellent work they’re doing both delivering Ed Tech and strengthening the Ed Tech educator community. (Though I hope Ingrid doesn’t get in trouble with CPSD for her “building a path to nowhere” quote!)

And in the 15 minutes of fame category: I attended the ScratchEd Meetup that Sophia Nguyen visited while writing the article, and I’m the person she refers to as being there because I “wanted to learn strategies for running an after-school club.” Go Baldwin Scratch Club!

FCL Workshop first meeting

We had the first workshop of the Cambridge sessions of Family Creative Learning, organized by Gina Roughton and Ingrid Gustafson. I was there as an additional facilitator. We had four families with a total of nine kids. Some of them had had exposure to Scratch before and others had had none. All of them had had experience with technology and computers.

FCL first workshop, me demo'ing Scratch.  Photo by Ricarose Roque
FCL first workshop, demo’ing Scratch. Photo by Ricarose Roque
For much of workshop 1, the adults and children separate, so each group can talk and then explore the technology on their own terms. I think it’s a smart aspect of the FCL curriculum design. Ingrid worked with the adult group, while Gina and I worked with the kids. Gina led a community standards setting process and then I jumped in to explain Scratch and introduce it to the kids.

After the kids got set up with their own accounts (a process that took longer than was ideal — we should have pre-created accounts), we did the animate your name intro project, as suggested in the FCL curriculum. That’s a good choice for project since it’s both personal and straightforward. The ones with prior Scratch experience were able to take the exercise farther, but all of the kids were engaged by it and all of them got the fundamental point about programming instructions telling the computer what you want it to do, with events (keyboard, the “green flag”, what have you) triggering these instructions to run.

After the “making” phase, the parent and kid groups re-joined and demo’ed their work to each other. That was a lot of fun, with a lot of laughter all around. The whole experience was wonderful and I look forward to the remaining sessions. I also feel encouraged to get involved in — or create — similar workshops or classes, whether based in the schools or private locations (like Muckykids!).

SNAP! Berkeley extension to Scratch

MIT’s Scratch is an excellent platform for introducing kids to programming concepts (as I described in an earlier post) thanks to its visual authoring environment and the intuitive sprites-with-behavior model, but it is definitely limited. Pushing beyond the design boundaries of Scratch is definitely possible, in particular by feeding Lists of coordinates to the Pen commands to do sophisticated scene rendering, but at this point the advantages of Scratch begin to break down — there is no longer a clear correspondence between the onscreen sprites and their scripted behaviors and the code becomes hard to parse.

Snap logoRecently I learned about Snap! (previously called BYOB for “Build Your Own Blocks”). This is a re-implementation of Scratch, created at UC Berkeley, which introduces additional complexity into the core of Scratch, including more sophisticated data and control structures and the ability to define procedures.

I’ve only just started looking at this and look forward to playing around with it more. Another interesting tidbit is that Snap! is the language used for Berkeley’s BJC (Beauty and Joy of Computing) curriculum, which will be the subject of a future post!

Family Creative Learning

Family Creative Learning is a workshop series developed by MIT Media Lab researcher Ricarose Roque. It’s a five week / five meeting program that brings families (parent(s) and child(ren)) together around hands-on experimentation with creative technology projects using Scratch and MaKey MaKey. Food is served at each meeting to create a communal “family dinner” feeling. The FCL folks ran several of these workshops themselves and are active in recruiting new facilitators to run these workshops themselves “in the wild”.

I’m excited to be participating as a facilitator in an upcoming FCL workshop series that will be held here in Cambridge starting later this month, thanks to the leadership of Ingrid Gustafson!

I love the core idea of FCL, bringing parents and kids together around creative engagement with technology. My own driving interest in Ed Tech is the desire to help kids see technology as an enabler of creativity rather than just consumption. Weaving this awareness throughout the whole family — as FCL does — seems like a perfect way to achieve this goal.


I’ve always had interest in educational technology, but between my Houghton Mifflin / Ziff Davis years and the birth of my first kid, it lay fallow. More than anything else, Scratch, a “drag-and-drop” programming language developed by the MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten Group, re-ignited that interest.
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