What is Scratch?
Scratch is the most widely used computer coding language in Schools around the world. Given that nowadays coding is a compulsory subject in schools it is very likely your child will be using it at some stage.
While its primary aim is education for 6-16 year olds, people of all ages use it to create a wide range of useful, interesting and fun programs across disciplines including Entertainment, Music, Mathematics, Languages, Science and the Arts.
Here's what you need to know.
Block based - Easier to use
Perhaps the most obvious feature of Scratch is that rather than using text based instructions, it uses graphical coloured blocks. Each block represents a single instruction to the computer.
The blocks can easily be joined together to produce a sequence of instructions (called a script) that the computer follows, starting at the top and moving downwards.
The advantages, from a learning point of view, of this ‘block’ based approach are:
- You don't need to remember or type complex sections of code, the blocks are all available on the screen so you can just select the appropriate instruction and ‘drag and drop’ it into place as needed.
- Blocks fit together like a jigsaw so there are strong visual hints about how they can be combined.
- The blocks are colour-coded into categories making it easier to find the block you need.
- Errors in coding are rare and when they do occur are much easier to identify and correct.
- Using a block based approach largely avoids trivial typing or syntax errors that can be so frustrating and demoralising for people just starting on computer coding.
- In spite of this simplified approach to coding, Scratch is a powerful and versatile coding language.
Helps develop key skills
Scratch has been designed primarily to make writing computer programmes simple but at the same time it helps to develop key skills:
- thinking creatively,
- reasoning systematically, and
- working collaboratively
All of which are essential, transferable, skills for life in the 21st century.
As you may have guessed there is a limit as to what can be achieved with a block based programming language like Scratch. It is simply not powerful enough to create the kind of Apps we use on smartphones, complex games or business software etc.
But that is not really the point. Learning with Scratch means people get pretty good results straightaway and that acts as a springboard for them to move on to other, more mainstream, coding languages.
How do you get Scratch?
The program is browser based and runs on almost any computer including tablets. It's completely free to use. Simply go to the website at scratch.mit.edu
Scratch is developed and maintained by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) which is one of the world's leading universities.
The latest version is Scratch 3.0 which is a significant improvement on previous versions. It is easier to use and has some great new features. If at all possible make sure any projects or guides your children follow are based on this version.
Give it a try
Get our Coding with Scratch: First Steps guide. It's free to download and you will be coding within 10 minutes!