My student/professional goal for this year is all about utilizing the new library iPads as creation (rather than consumption) tools. One of the projects I identified was teaching my 1st graders how to use Scratch Jr, a coding app designed for students who are pre-literate.
Scratch Jr. works by giving kids a built-in library of characters and backgrounds (though these can be edited or created by students) and simple blocks that use symbols in order to code their characters to create movement, action and sound. It's not as sophisticated as regular Scratch, but it does allow for a great deal of creativity at an age-appropriate level.
The premise of this unit was that students would create an original story following our group study of the beginning, middle and end of the story. I began by teaching them a few tutorials that introduced the different controls of the app (which I found here) and a few of the features they might want to use (we stopped at lesson 5 ). This part (which took about 3 weeks) was...frustrating for all concerned.
The biggest reason for this frustration was my assumption that students knew how to use the iPads confidently - after all, they use them in their classrooms. What I didn't consider was that when they use them, it's not for creation purposes, it's for skill practice, so there's little independent use of the devices involved. As a result, they were initially overwhelmed with all the functions of the Scratch Jr. app, and even struggled with how to apply the appropriate amount of pressure to the screen to delete or move characters around. I modeled, I used the ActivBoard, I handed out printed guides - but it was tricky getting them over the learning curves necessary to use the app successfully.
A student demonstrates their completion of the first Scratch Jr. tutorial, getting a car to move across a cityscape scene.
Just when I started to despair that this project was doomed to failure, I decided to stop the tutorials and see what happened. Students first had to plan out their story with basic storyboarding and get their story approved by me before they got an iPad. I did, however, allow them to use an iPad to look at the different backgrounds and characters for inspiration purposes.
And then, I just let them go.
The results were much better than I'd expected. Some kids figured out extremely sophisticated coding combinations, edited their characters or created original ones, added conversations, and used commands I never taught them. The majority of kids eventually found their feet and become more independent and comfortable using the app. The stories were fairly basic in terms of what happened on the screen, but the goal was to get them creating original projects, so from that standpoint, I'm pleased.
The next step was figuring out how to share their projects - Scratch Jr. is a fairly locked down app, which makes sharing difficult. And then I realized that I had the perfect solution - app smashing! It was a bit of a multi-step process, but it did the trick.
First, I used the Reflector app to broadcast the iPads to my laptop, then used the built-in recorder to film a video. Next, I used AirDrop to send the files to my iPad, then used iMovie to lengthen the videos. The exported videos were then added to Book Creator. This worked beautifully, because it allowed kids to record a verbal explanation of their story, exercise some editorial control over the title, font, and color, and have the video of their story play on the same page. Even better, Book Creator allows files to be exported as videos, so once they were done, I simply added the videos to my YouTube channel, then shared the link in each student's Seesaw folder.
We're still working our way through the recording process, and I have a few kiddos that are still working on their stories, but on the whole, I am pleased with how this project turned itself around. I surveyed two of my three classes to gauge their opinions on Scratch Jr., and the majority said they feel they can now use the app without much adult support and they would love to use the app for fun and for other curricular purposes in the future. Some even shared that they are now using the app at home, which was really great to hear.
Check out the stories that have been shared so far - more coming at a later date!
My name is Ms. Bery. I am a PK-8 library media specialist in the Boston area. In addition to being a certified school librarian, I am also certified in instructional technology, and have a strong interest in exploring and integrating technology in new and exciting ways in the classroom.
I am also a 2016 PBS LearningMedia Local Digital Innovator, and a 2015 recipient of the Massachusetts School Library Association's President's Award.
Check out the Sandbox for apps and websites I've found useful in supporting student learning and creativity. I also review children's, middle grade, and young adult books on Instagram.
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