First Thoughts on ScratchJr, by AnnMarie Hurtado
When I was nine years old, I was playing around with a paint program on my family’s old Atari computer and figured out how to animate pictures by making a lot of images with very slight changes and then playing them together. As old-school as that early-90s Atari program was, it worked incredibly well and taught me how my favorite movies were made. Years later, when I found Scratch, I was thrilled to find a way to share that same exciting discovery of animation with kids—and I’ve been teaching it at my library and at a nearby private school for the past two years.
So you can imagine my disappointment that the new long-awaited iPad app, ScratchJr, doesn’t have the capability to animate your sprites. You can do this on the regular Scratch website by creating multiple “costumes” for a sprite and telling the sprite to switch costumes in a certain sequence. But ScratchJr has nothing like that. For me, this makes all of the projects just fall flat. They don’t look much different than the characters moving around or growing bigger or smaller that you see when you record a show in PuppetPals. I was hoping ScratchJr would be able to do much more.
A lot of the reviews of ScratchJr have echoed my disappointment. Perhaps this is because Scratch is such an amazing system with endless possibilities, and it’s natural to want to see some of that broad horizon replicated in its Junior version. So far a user can program sprites to move around or say something. They can also program a scene to change. They can enter sounds and text. And they can program cause-and-effect, like making a sound when a sprite is tapped. The left-to-right sequence is a win for ScratchJr because it’s very intuitive for little kids. The lack of coding language, replaced by obvious symbols, is another win that shows this app was made for younger kids than the users of the main Scratch website.
Adults will need to play around with it a lot before showing their kids how to do it. I wish it had been clearer what the symbols in the ScratchJr interface stood for—I had to learn some things just by trial-and-error. I do feel really excited to show my 4-year-old some of the easy things you can do with Scratch, and hope that she catches on. Understanding that things happen in a sequence and understanding cause and effect are just a few of the important literacy skills that this program can teach primary-grade children.
But this version is just a first step. Looking forward to an update!AnnMarie Hurtado is a youth services librarian with Pasadena Public Library.
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