Scratch “Scratched” a Year off My Life: My Story

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  greg westfall. via Compfight cc

It was a cold, dark night when I decided I would use the last 30 minutes before bed to try out Scratch. It’ll be fun, I told myself; I’ll make something cool.

In the back of my brain, a small voice said: “What about what Katia said? That memories of using Scratch still torments those who used it in her last class?” (Sorry, Katia. I put some embellishments on that for effect. But, after having used it now, I know that’s what you really wanted to say, anyway).

“Katia’s crazy,” I told myself. “I watched her work with Scratch with my own eyes in Tuesday’s class. It won’t be hard.”

The lies we tell ourselves.

The truth is, I stayed up for two hours past my “bedtime” trying to figure Scratch out. “This is a little harder than I thought,” I told myself at first, downplaying the trouble I was having. Then, an hour later, I was grinding my teeth and trying to keep myself from throwing my computer at the wall. I said things in those minutes that I was not proud of, some of which would get me a bar of soap in the mouth if I was at home. In the back of my mind, I knew that if I went to bed and tried it out the next day, I would be able to figure this mystery known as Scratch out but I didn’t want to admit defeat. The result? I ended staying up much later than usual with no progress to show for it; I ended going to bed cursing the world and  “Scratch” the cat who wouldn’t stop meowing when I told him to.

I was furious that I was having so much trouble with Scratch and the trouble I had solidified to me why so many teachers choose not to use technology in their classrooms: for some, the learning curve is substantial. With everything that teachers have going on in their lives – extracurricular, marking, workshops, etc – there often isn’t extra time to try to figure these things out, especially when you figure his/her personal life in. I even tried to find resources on how to use Scratch on the internet, and I was shocked to find that there wasn’t many, not even those trusty step-by-step videos on YouTube that teachers so often rely on.

So what did I do? I tried Scratch out again after work – 24 hours later – when my anger had cooled off and I felt ready for the possibility of plunging myself into a pit of despair. Or that’s what I thought, anyway. After taking a deep breath and watching Tuesday’s screencast again, I decided to start new and ditch the devil known as “Scratch” the cat to toy with some different options.

My mindset? Start simple. Be patient. Be calm. The result? Check it out here. It’s by no means a masterpiece – and the weirdness of it somewhat mirrors my residual frustration – but it’s a start, right? I’m learning, and learning is a process, one that we so often stress in our classrooms. We can’t expect to snap our fingers and for a finished product to magically appear. A key to learning anything new is to take it one step at a time and that was something I ignored at first because I wanted to get my Scratch done as quickly as possible.

Let’s examine this for a minute, this impatience; teachers are models for their students. The students see us everyday and observe how we conduct ourselves. We don’t want students to take the shortcuts on things so why should we? We want students to try their best on everything and so if they see us taking “shortcuts” in our lessons – i.e. opting out of the “hard” technology stuff – they will get the wrong message. We already know that integrating technology into the classroom is one of the keys to an engaging lesson and so, as teachers, we have a responsibility to do so; we are models for our students and anything less than our best would reflect poorly on the message we want to send.

Many years from now, when reflecting back on my Scratch experience, I’ll think on it fondly as the moment when I almost cursed technology and vowed to be rid of it for the rest of my life. But, in those moments, I heard Katia’s voice. “PLN!” She said. “Technology-based learning!” She shouted. “Multi-faceted learning!”

I know, of course, the benefits of using technology in the classroom. This whole Scratch experience was simply a moment of weakness, like we all have. We all have those days when we want to scream because technology is the worst thing that could have ever happened to the world (or so we tell ourselves). What defines us in those moments, however, is how we respond to this adversity. And, of course, doing what’s best for our students will always motivate us to make the right decision. Incorporating technology in the classroom is proven to foster better learning and we may forget that in those moments when we want to throw our computers against the wall, but it comes back soon.

If there’s two things I learned from this Scratch episode it’s this: never start a project 30 minutes before bedtime and anticipate a learning curve when trying out any new technology. Don’t be discouraged by these problems, however; embrace them as part of the learning process.

Now that I’ve used Scratch, what do I think some of its uses could be? The possibilities really are endless; the website is a great way to encourage creativity in students and with this creativity comes an endless amount of things to do. You could create a game, you could create a story, you could create a book report, a presentation, anything, really, that meets your fancy. It is teachers’ job to work with the curriculum, but that doesn’t mean we have to do it in a conventional way, especially when we have so many different tools at our disposal. And what does conventional even mean now, anyway? In a world of technology, there is no such thing as conventional and I think we are seeing this more and more in today’s schools. Ultimately, technology is our future; it will never stop progressing. It is our job, therefore, to work with this wave to empower students to have a deeper understanding about this new world and perhaps even give them the skills to contribute to it. Learning how to code, in particular, is essential to this. There are a plethora of resources stressing why coding is important regarding students’ learning and I agree. Check out this article – just one of many – to understand more about why it’s important.

The bottom line? Computers are our present and they will be our futures. If I may be so bold, I’ll even declare that there is no profession today that is not untouched by computers. Therefore, don’t you think having a better understanding of how computers function would be a valuable addition to our schools? We say that we want to give our students the best and we have to stand behind this; actions speak louder than words. Besides, teaching our lessons through technology such as coding would actually improve students’ learning; it’s dynamic, it’s engaging and it will get students excited for lessons.

Fellow #ecmp355 ‘s: How was YOUR experience with Scratch? For any others, what do you think about using coding as a technological resource in the classroom?

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