Middle school students playing video games is hardly news. But when the students are playing games they’ve built from “Scratch,” the story takes a turn. The students in question attend Compton-Drew Middle School in the Dogtown neighborhood of St. Louis and are participating in a computer coding class. The class was developed by Bill Stanard, and is offered under the auspices of Tech Collaborative STL. It is funded in part by the Incarnate Word Foundation.
Scratch is a programming language developed at MIT in 2002. With the use of a tiny Raspberry Pi computer students created animated computer games. But as students make their games, they’re also learning the basic steps of computer coding and programming. Both skill sets are areas where good jobs are plentiful, Stanard said. Anything that can attract young people to these fields is worthwhile, and will make them self-sustaining members of the 21st Century workplace.
All of the games must have basic elements in common. But components like background, costumes, scoring intervals, sound effects and hazards are up to the designers. That allows students to have a personal investment in the finished product.
If students want to change anything they have to find the appropriate coding and put it in the appropriate place. If they want something to happen they have to learn how to make it happen. Skills acquired in the process include logical thinking, problem solving and innovation. Students interviewed said they enjoyed the game-making but they also saw the greater value. They liked learning how to make computers work and learning how to help someone who might be hacked.
The summer school class is a trial project with Stanard’s ultimate goal being the instruction of teachers. And not just computer teachers. This program can be used for math, science and storytelling. It is a great tool for students to use to visualize abstract concepts, Stanard said.