Kids and adults can ‘Scratch’ the surface of computer programming

Ursula Wolz, professor of computer science, introduced the computer programming language and social networking site, “Scratch,” at her lecture, “Arts, Science and Pedagogy: Scratching Games, Simulation and Video Shorts with a Purpose,” given last Wednesday, Nov. 7 in Holman Hall. The focus of the lecture was both on the program’s social networking aspect and the good that it is doing for computer programming.

“Scratch” was designed by Mitchel Resnick, professor of Learning Research at the MIT Media Lab, as a computer programming Web site for children. It was a way for the children in his after-school program, Computer Clubhouse, to explore both the computer and their own talents. The program has expanded well beyond its original audience and has become a social networking site “along the lines of Facebook and MySpace,” Wolz said.

Members are able to create their own world, view the projects of others and add comments to other users’ pages.

Wolz showed the audience a typical user’s site, displaying one created by her son. She showed a clip of Scratch the cat, the site’s mascot, playing the saxophone. This demonstrated to the audience not only the type of animation the user can create, but the saxophone the audience heard was a recording of her son’s actual saxophone playing imported into the program.

Many teachers hope that the Web site will increase the currently dwindling number of students majoring in computer science.

“A lot of people stay away from computer programming because they think it’s too hard. This program shows students that they have the power to tell the computer what they want it to do and hopefully this will encourage them to take harder computer programming classes,” Monisha Pulimood, professor of computer science, said.

The College’s students have been using “Scratch” in some introductory courses but it probably won’t become a serious teaching tool, as its purpose is more geared toward exploration and interaction.

“Scratch” provides everyday people with a different way of looking at computer programming. Wolz said, “You can do what you want with it and everybody doesn’t have to do the same thing. That’s probably the best part about it.”