Scratch Coding for Storytelling

In this week’s issue, we take a look at Scratch for developing interactive stories. Step by step instructions for starting an interactive story is available through Issuu in this week’s publication of Digital Maestro Magazine. A lesson plan and worksheets are available through Teachers Pay Teachers.

Scratch is a visual programming language that is free and available for children to use. The programming language is targeted at children to helping them learn to program. With Scratch, they can create interactive stories, games, and animations. Students and teachers can share their products with others in the Scratch community and on the web. The programming language was developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten “creative learning experiences” group at MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The programming language is available in over 70 languages so children around the world can use it to develop a variety of products. The skills learned with Scratch visual programming can be used in other programming languages like Python and Java.

The program is developed to help students think creatively, think systematically, and work collaboratively. Teachers can use Scratch to teach students coding skills and computational thinking. When Scratch is combined with hardware devices it can be used to teach students about computer science. Scratch is not just for coding and computational thinking. It can be used to teach math, science, social studies, writing, reading, geography, and art. All the products created with Scratch can be shared with the Scratch community. 

Scratch takes its name from the way music DJs mix music to create new music. Scratch developers are encouraged to share, reuse, and mix code with everyone around the world. All products created are shared under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License. The original creator of a Scratch product is always given credit.

The program uses a stage and Sprites for the interactive and animation elements of the program. Sprites are images and graphics that are manipulated on the stage. Scratch comes with a variety of Sprites that can be used to create a variety of interactive stories. New Sprites can be created or uploaded to Scratch. 

The scenes on the stage can be changed. Scratch includes a variety of scenes for a variety of projects. New scenes can be created by students with the built-in draw program. Sprites can also be created using the drawing program. Scene and Sprite images can be uploaded for projects. Images for scenes must be 360 by 480 pixels. Larger or smaller images will not display properly. Scratch includes a camera button that accesses the camera on the computer to capture a scene for the stage or a character for a Sprite.

Scratch uses a coordinate system to position Sprites on the stage with code. The center of the stage is at coordinates (0,0). The stage is 480 pixels wide and 360 pixels tall. The coordinate system is slightly different from the Cartesian coordinate system used in math. In the Cartesian coordinate system, the angle measurement begins on the x-axis at zero. In Scratch, zero begins on the y-axis. 

To program in Scratch, we select a Sprite and use the code blocks in the center. The center area is called the Block Palette. The code blocks are divided into categories. These categories include motion, looks, sound, pen, data, events, control, sensing, and operators for math and logic. 

The code blocks are dragged onto the area on the right. As code blocks are placed onto the coding area they can be tested. Testing each code block helps students and teachers understand how each code block works and how they can be combined with other code blocks. The code can be attached to several Sprites and the code on each Sprite can be executed simultaneously or at different times. This provides opportunities to develop elaborate interactive products like games and stories.

Scratch is available online for most devices and platforms. A downloadable version of the application is available for Windows, Mac, and computers running Linux. Versions of Scratch are used in other applications, robots, and micro-controllers.

Scratch Coding Teacher Accounts

Scratch differentiates between regular accounts and accounts designated for teachers. This distinction is important because Scratch does not have a process in place to use a personal account as a teacher account. As of the time this article was written, Scratch did not have a way to transfer a regular account to a teacher account. This means that if you want a teacher account, you will need to create a new account with a new username. To apply for an educator account you will need to go over to the educator section using this link, https://scratch.mit.edu/educators, and click the Teacher Accounts button.

The teacher application process is very simple and Scratch wants to confirm that you are an educator. The information you provide during the account creation process will help those at Scratch determine if you are an educator. To this end, you should provide a district or school email when prompted. The teacher account will be created at the end of the process but features related to the teacher account will not be available for a couple of days. The educator features include the function to create classes and student accounts. In the meantime, you can log in using the teacher account and create your profile. This profile will help define your class and will be visible to students. 

When the account is approved, you will have access to several resources. You will be able to create and view classes. You will also have access to ScratchEd, which is an online community of educators. In this community, you will be able to have discussions, share resources, and have meetups with other educators. Scratch has scheduled events where you can learn more and meet with other educators using Scratch. There are events around the world that are created by other Scratch members. There might be an event near you. You can find other members near you to meet with for support and ideas. There is an online forum where you can find answers to common questions along with ideas and solutions. There are a variety of resources available in a variety of languages. These resources include support for different grade levels and curricular activities. 

Access to these resources requires that you apply for another account that is specific to these resources. You can use the same username and email to create the ScratchEd account. An email will be sent after filling out the form. It will inform you that the account is in review and that you will receive confirmation. The confirmation email will include instructions for accessing the account and creating a password.

Scratch Coding Teacher Classes

With an educator account, we can create classes. These classes contain students with accounts we create for them or they create for themselves. Within classes, we can create studios. A studio is a collection of projects. Teachers and curators can add projects to a studio. 

Each studio has a description box. In this box, we provide information about the project that students will create and any relevant information related to the project. For example, if we created a studio for a writing project, we would include information related to the goals of the project and expectations of a good project. Several studios can be created within a class.

Within studios, we can invite curators. Curators are other teachers. They can add student projects to the studio. Students do not add their projects to the Studio. Curators do not need to have an educator account. Curators can be promoted to managers. Teachers that create classes and studios are automatically assigned the role of manager. Curators promoted to managers have the same access and options as other managers. Managers can add and delete curators. They can also delete other managers. 

To add student projects to a Studio, they must be shared by students. Shared projects are the only way teachers can add them to the studio. New projects are always private until they are shared. Shared projects are available to anyone in the Scratch community. Keep this in mind when prompting students to create and submit projects. It is generally a good idea to keep personal information out of the project and provide only what is important for the project. 

Projects can be made private again. This might be a good idea after a project is complete and the student has received a grade for the project. The number of shared projects can get very large and limiting the number of visible shared projects makes it easier to select student projects for studios.

Scratch Coding Student Class Accounts

Student accounts are easy to create but have many restrictions. Student accounts created for a class cannot be used for other classes. Student accounts created for a class cannot be used when a class is ended. Existing accounts cannot be used to join classes.

These are a lot of restrictions, but Scratch is undertaking steps to remove these restrictions in future versions. In the meantime, we can invite students to join a class or we can create accounts for students. Accounts can only be created by students that are 13 years or older. Accounts for students that are 12 or younger need to be created by a teacher. 

To create student accounts we need to create a class first. Inside the class, we can generate a link for students that are 13 or older to use for creating an account and joining the class. Remember, the account created under this class can only be used for this class. To join other classes, students will need to create a separate account. 

Creating accounts for students that are 12 or younger requires that we manually create them in the class. We can create them one at a time or we can upload a Comma Separated Value (CSV) file with a list of accounts and passwords. We can create up to 50 accounts at once with a CSV file. Once the accounts are created we can issue them to students. Students will use the account username and password to log into Scratch. After entering the information we will be prompted to confirm they want to log in and join the class.

Student accounts can be frustrating but they offer a way to create accounts for students 12 or younger and to receive submitted projects from students.

Lesson Plans and Other Resources

In this week’s issue, I demonstrate how Scratch can be used to create a basic interactive story. You will learn how to change the scene on the stage and how to add sprites to the stage. We apply code to each sprite and learn how to change a sprite’s costume. We learn how characters in a story can interact with other characters by responding to character conversations. We do this by sending messages and receiving messages from characters. 

In the lesson plan, we take the skills learned and apply them to a school project. Students will create an interactive program that introduces new students to the school and resources available at the school. 

The worksheets include crosswords, word searches, matching, and word scrambles. The worksheets cover vocabulary terms learned in the coding process.

Step by step instructions for starting an interactive story is available through Issuu in this week’s publication of Digital Maestro Magazine. A lesson plan and worksheets are available through Teachers Pay Teachers.

A detailed list of lesson plans and worksheets can be found in the Lesson Plan section that accompanies this post.