Last May, one of the summer-time professional development flyers among the plethora that all teachers receive at the end of each school year caught my attention. A class in how to construct your own video games for learning was being given in my area. Now, I’ve been a gamer all my life; my parents purchased our first Atari 2600 when I was in Kindergarten and I played the heck out of Miner 49er. Though my taste in games has changed over the years, my gaming enthusiasm has not. I still enjoy sitting down to play a couple of hours each week or so (I’m currently trying to “collect them all” in Pokemon Diamond for my Nintendo DS). Playing games is a way for me to relax, but more importantly, helps me stay connected with what students, especially elementary age, are doing in their leisure time. So when I learned that a huge time conflict wouldn’t allow to me to attend the video game creation class, I was heart broken.
Thanks to the wonderfully resourceful Hope C.E. Primary School Blog, I was clued into what looks like a fantastic new program for creating your very own video games and other programs……for FREE! The Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT (such a great name!) has developed Scratch, a Logo-inspired program that allows any computer user (MAC or PC) to piece together their own video game using simple building blocks, in much the same way that a child would construct a LEGO building. Now, I’m sure it’s not as simple as placing one block on top of another, from from the screenshot above, it looks as thought it would be pretty simple to have students develop simplistic games and/or programs. From what I remember of my Logowriter days, telling the little turtle to draw a house or a car, and then animate it by constantly erasing the image and then shifting positions, was fairly easy. To think that students could have a way to program their very own games for reviewing classroom materials, practicing math facts, or creating their very own version of Oregon Trail has me hopping up and down with excitement.
I spent the better portion of the day just downloading the program (which I probably shouldn’t have done, seeing as we have limited bandwidth and all). I’m definitely going to play with it this summer, and see how easy it would be to use in the classroom. My guess is simple commands like having your character move forward 20 steps and play noises would be pretty simple, given the screenshot above. Thankfully there are plenty of resources for educators on how to use the program, including videos, tutorials, and more.