Scratch-ing the Itch to Program

scratch programming blocks photo
Photo by andresmh

I’m late to the party, I realize. I’ve seen the user- and kid-friendly programming blocks before. In fact, I’ve even used a version of them when learning to develop mobile apps. But what spurred me to introduce my kids to the Scratch platform was when I learned about the user community and that all projects are open-source and remixable.

My kids have–like most kids–been developing in Minecraft, so I was looking for a next step for them to extend those skills. Scratch is the perfect fit. They have complete creative freedom. My oldest’s first project is a lab building game, my younger son’s has growing and shrinking dragons and robots, and my daughter’s is a “beautiful ballerina.”

As I begin a class on significant learning environments, it’s helpful to see such a great example of one in action. It’s also a perfect encapsulation of the COVA model. Since they have complete creative control, they eagerly take ownership of learning the platform, use and develop their own voice, and create projects that are authentic to them.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Jim Lovell on Failing

Neil deGrasse Tyson on failure and experimenting:

…it’s not only admitting or celebrating when you don’t know something, but also recognizing the value of failure. You don’t want to fail doing something that has already been done where people succeeded. You want to be able to fail at something that has never done before and recognize that the day you never fail is the day you are no longer on the frontier of anything. So we should celebrate the experiment.

Jim Lovell on Appollo 13’s legacy:

Not landing on the moon was probably the best thing that ever happened to NASA. …it looked like it was so routine that people were not getting interested any more and not realizing the amount of technology and work that had to be done to make those flights safe…. 

References:

COVA and Maker Mindset at Google

Brian Basgen of Emerson College sparked a great discussion on of one of my learning networks (Educause CIO Constituent Listserv) about what people are reading , and Luke Fernandez’s response really got me thinking. He recommended The History of Google from the Internet History Podcast , which is a terrific exploration of the origins and history of the internet behemoth Google. As I read it, I picked up on a lot of themes related to the maker mindset  and the COVA (choice, ownership, voice, authenticity) model .

Because Larry and Sergey were given choice in their authentic learning experiences, they took ownership of their ideas and created a company imbued with their unique voice. They are icons of the maker mindset and as a result were able to make an impact by building arguably the most influential internet company of all time.

Following are a few selected quotations from the article, but it’s well worth a full read (or listen):

Authenticity:

Larry and Sergey both grew up to respect research, academic study, mathematics and, especially, computers. And it turned out they both had inquisitive minds that believed in the power of knowledge to overcome any obstacle, intellectual or practical. Each had been inculcated into this spirit of intellectual fearlessness at a young age.

Choice:

“You can’t understand Google,” early Google employee Marissa Mayer has insisted, “unless you know that both Larry and Sergey were Montessori kids. It’s really ingrained in their personalities. To ask their own questions, do their own things. Do something because it makes sense, not because some authority figure told you. In a Montessori school, you go paint because you have something to express or you just want to do it that afternoon, not because the teacher said so. This is baked into how Larry and Sergey approach problems. They’re always asking, why should it be like that? It’s the way their brains were programmed early on.”

Ownership:

“It wasn’t that they [Page and Brin] sat down and said, ‘Let’s build the next great search engine,’” said Rajeev Motwani, who was Brin’s academic advisor. “They were trying to solve interesting problems and stumbled upon some neat ideas.”

Voice:

Part of this was simple frugality, a habit that would serve them well when the dotcom bubble burst in a few short years. But a lot of it was Page and Brin’s ingrained Montessori philosophy: they never met an engineering problem they couldn’t solve themselves. Google didn’t take pages from the established Silicon Valley playbook because, in a way, they had never bought into it. They didn’t try to Get Big Fast. Instead, Page and Brin were almost manically focused on endlessly iterating and improving upon their Big Idea, making sure it was the most comprehensive, reliable and—most importantly—speedy search engine in the world. 


References:

Why do we Lose Creativity? 

Last night my son started dragging our old vacuum cleaner up the stairs, asking me to tear it apart so he could see how it works. That way, he could get started inventing his anti-gravity machine with enormous vacuums at the top and bottom. Of course, I was happy to oblige.

It made me think, why do we tend to lose that creativity? How can I, as an educator and father, encourage, protect, and even reinvigorate that spark? 

Grand Prix Cars and Growth Mindset

It’s Awana Grand Prix time, so that means it’s the time that I need to become an amateur (very amateur) woodworker. I’ve always tried to make sure the kids are as involved as possible, but every now and again it comes back to bite me.

This year, my oldest’s design included a “t” with a slant. It was fun to work through it with him as we tried to figure out what tools to use and how to make the cuts. After I’d made the initial cuts, I asked him again if he really wanted those slants.

“Is it going to be too hard for you?” was his response.

Hit me right in the ego, he did. “Well, it’ll be hard, anyway,” I replied. The challenge had been issued.

Maybe it was because I was trying to hurry up to get it done in time for class, but it made me think of the growth mindset we’ve been talking about. A fixed mindset approach would’ve just said, “I don’t know how to do that” and been done with it. But, even though it was primarily ego-driven, I had an opportunity to show my son an example of growth mindset.

“It’s hard, but I can figure it out” may be one of the best lessons I can teach my kids.

New Here? Me Too.

This type of writing is far from typical for me. In fact, everything about this is different. While I love learning, going back into a classroom situation is not exactly my natural instinct. As a kid, I didn’t hate school, and I did okay, but I guess I have always been more of a learn-on-the-job kind of guy.  Or maybe, more like Fire, Aim, Ready.

But, here I am. With three kids, when I just started my most demanding job ever, more involved than ever in church and community projects, starting online classes. I’m excited, but this is definitely way outside my wheelhouse.

How appropriate, then, that the first topic revolves around Dweck’s concept of a “growth mindset,” that we should not limit ourselves to a “fixed” view of our own abilities but rather focus on the future version of ourself and set out to learn and achieve.


Dweck, C. S. (2008). Mindset: the new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.