Tag Archives: Scratch

Building a Biome From Scratch

Watching students become more confident and willing to take risks made this a very memorable experience. The 2017 spring semester was the start of my PAA journey and began with a residency in Mrs. Reynolds’ 7th grade class at Michael R. White STEM School. The goal was to reinforce knowledge of abiotic and biotic factors of an ecosystem. To a 7th grader I’m sure this sounded about as much fun as watching paint dry. To make this much more engaging, and utilize 21st century skills, we decided that they would create their own animated biome presentation using Scratch. None of the students had ever used Scratch before. They had to learn the interface and the visual scripting all while presenting accurate, standards based information to their audience. This would be challenging, and they knew it. They were very rambunctious and filled with nervous energy when the project began.

One student in particular sticks out in my mind. Let’s just say he was not the most cooperative. Initially, he was often cracking jokes, having side conversations, and generally just fooling around. He seemed to have little interest in the project. However, by the last few sessions he was leading his peers in various techniques and code application. At our final session, he was visibly upset when reminded that it was our last day together. In a weak voice he asked, “So we are never going to see you again?” I told him that I would be around the school and that he could always go online and use Scratch on his own. He then told me that he wanted to start making Scratch games and be an artist.

The transformative power of successful experiences never ceases to amaze.


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Telling the Story of our Landscape with the Makey Makey and Scratch


Mound STEM School 4th grader working on coding his Scratch animation.

The 4th graders at Mound STEM School in Cleveland were already well-versed in landforms when I began my residency this past fall semester. Their teachers had done an excellent job teaching the students all about weathering, erosion, and the formation of landforms. What I found lacking in this class was the ability to visualize these landforms. They could tell me how a valley or a glacier was created, but they could not tell me what said valley or glacier looked like. They could describe the weather associated with these landforms, but not the visuals of them. This is one of those key factors missing from our education system: the ability to let students experience these realities first-hand. Although we cannot take the students to the Grand Canyon or to the valleys of the Rocky Mountains, we can show YouTube videos, paintings and images to give our students a glimpse of these environments.

It took students some time to realize their visions for their Scratch animations they made as part of my residency work. The animations included drawn imagery sourced from discovered images and videos research. Once they had conquered the imagery, the students incorporated facts about their landforms to educate other students and other viewers. We then used conductive materials such as graphite, aluminum foil, and copper tape to create conductive drawings, which worked along with the Makey Makeys to trigger the Scratch projects. The conductive drawings were a result of experiments completed by the students, during which they tested various materials to find what the most conductive materials were to use for their artworks.

Experimenting with conductive materials and the Makey-Makey.

Experimenting with conductive materials and the Makey Makey.

The results of combining these various materials and methods was a (surprisingly) cohesive and exciting project. The students learned the basics of coding, digital painting, physical drawing, and conductivity, along with their landform curriculum. This was a very challenging residency to accomplish, and the results were far from perfect. I would love to do this residency again, with slight adjustments to streamline the process. The students were very proud of their work, and their projects can be viewed here. I enjoyed my time with the 4th graders at Mound STEM, and I look forward to seeing what these enthusiastic learners create next.

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A Summer of Scratch

Over the past few months Progressive Arts Alliance has teamed up with the Cuyahoga County Public Library system to offer a five-day Scratch camp to children ages 11-18. Together with Allison Bogard, I’ve been co-facilitating these camps. I’d like to share a few projects the students have created that are really inspiring.


Several students made role playing games. The project shown above is one that stood out, as the student created the story, characters, animations — everything — from scratch (no pun intended)! Click on the above image to play the game.

Other students were inspired from games that already exist, and tweaked or combined elements to make something original. This version of Space Invaders (click on the image below) is well thought out, and adds an interesting spin to the classic game.



Many students also like creating puzzle games. The below example of a maze game has a very different vibe from many of the fast-paced, sci-fi types of games to which students are often drawn. It is relaxing, eerie, and challenging all at once!


Over the summer I’ve been happy to see students with and without prior knowledge of coding grasping abstract concepts and applying them almost immediately to the projects they were working on. I was inspired to see and hear students communicating and working together to solve problems or complicated challenges in their code after they were introduced to the idea of a critique.

As a result of these camps, I have found that in most cases it isn’t my job to take students step by step through something, but to be a guide through their creative process and help them teach themselves.

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Scratching the Surface

PAA Artist-Educators in the PAA lab experimenting with Scratch.

PAA Artist-Educators in the PAA lab experimenting with Scratch.

Last week, Artist-Educators at Progressive Arts Alliance enjoyed the opportunity for a full day training session on Scratch with Eric, the Scratch Online Community Manager. So, what exactly is Scratch, you ask?

Created by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab, Scratch is a visual programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art — and then share your creations on the web. It’s a programming environment and online community where kids create, share and remix animations, stories, interactive art and video games.

Scratch opens the doors wide for collaboration opportunity. As a visual artist myself, specifically a printmaker, I was amazed at how intuitive Scratch was for drag-and-drop visual programming. Only an hour into the training, and I was buzzing along on an animation project pretty comfortably. It’s a color-coded block-building approach to writing code. The user simply builds – similar to Legos – and locks together various movements and sounds. And Scratch is all about sharing. Once you publish your piece on Scratch, anyone can learn from what you built, and can borrow, or build upon it themselves for a remix – the code is always available, and public. Check out our studio of Scratch projects our team made during our training by clicking here.

We also adventured into Scratch Jr, which is the younger version of Scratch, and available as a free application for iPad. Here is a screenshot of a quick animation that I created on that platform:


Screen shot from my Scratch Jr. project.


After only a handful of hours learning about the software, my mind was abuzz with possibilities for classroom collaborations and residencies that could draw on the overlap of art forms. I can envision a printmaking residency that creates the backgrounds and various characters that could easily be imported into Scratch to lend for some gorgeous animations or games. What a rich opportunity to create media at every level (both physically and digitally) completely authored by students, and then shared – and I’ve just begun to scratch the surface of possibilities.

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