“But Miss, we done Scratch in primary…”


The cry echoing up and down the country as teachers try to grab the attention of their new students and start them along the challenging but immensely satisfying world of computing.

You take a deep breath, smile sweetly and try not to think that this is the same class who spent an entire hour with you last week failing to log on as they didn’t know about the caps lock key and now they think they are experts in programming.

Primary teachers have pounced on Scratch as a fun, easy to use programming language that neatly ticks off “computing” from their curriculum duties. It is fun, it is intuitive and the pupils like the bright colours and ease at which they can make a cat bounce around the screen. But there is so much more to Scratch than animation. There are so many more skills they could be learning from it.

The problems are:

  • How do you stop your class from focussing only on the animation aspect?

  • How can you get your year 7s to start to think like a programmer?

  • How can you persuade them that they still need to learn how to use Scratch when they already think they are experts?

It would be all too easy to let them continue to use Scratch while you put your feet up for the first half term as they create a “road safety animation” or other such nonsense. But you then have the problem that next year they will be hit with Python and many will struggle and lose confidence at the leap. You need to help them learn how to program, how to think like a programmer and how using the line “if on edge, bounce” is not the pinnacle of programming expertise. But how can you do this?

First you need to tell them that animation is not all that Scratch can do. Get them away from movement and into variables, iteration and if statements as quickly as you can. They could work on creating a Maths quiz like the one shown below.

Obviously, you cannot leap straight into creating a program like that but within a lesson or two they can learn about variables, loops and If statements, you may even try planning it out on paper, drawing flow diagrams and writing pseudocode. All skills which take Scratch a little bit further.

Create a text based adventure game “You are in a deep dark wood, do you go north, south, east or west.” This will certainly need planning on paper first.

If they are desperate for the bright colours, allow them to make a game but make it tough. Use levels, broadcast messages, variables to keep score, record lives or include a timer. Allow the user to select the difficulty level for the game, alter the size of the target as the game progresses etc. anything but simply changing colour when the cat hits the moving dog.

You may want to link Scratch to a BBC:Micro, if you have any left in your school. Create the code and show them the Python equivalent. Allow them to explore the possibility that programming is more than animation, get them excited about problem solving.

Hurray, they have “done Scratch at primary” but it is up to you to get them to the next stage of their programming journey, ready for the challenges that lie ahead.

Scratch is just the beginning.

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