Is it a game? a learning tool? a programming language?

Is it a game? a learning tool? a programming language?

Whatever it is, it’s been around for years, I’d never heard of it and it’s become a huge educational phenomenon: it’s been used to create over a million projects

Oh, and it recently won a major award in the annual Digital Media and Learning competition.

A new programming language developed at the MIT Media Lab turns kids from media consumers into media producers, enabling them to create their own interactive stories, games, music, and animation for the Web

With this new software, called Scratch, kids can program interactive creations by simply snapping together graphical blocks, much like LEGO® bricks, without any of the obscure punctuation and syntax of traditional programming languages.

Children can then share their interactive stories and games on the Web, the same way they share videos on YouTube, engaging with other kids in an online community that provides inspiration and feedback.

Taking the geekiness out of making ideas come to life on the screen

“Until now, only expert programmers could make interactive creations for the Web.

Scratch opens the gates for everyone.

As kids work on Scratch projects, they learn to think creatively and solve problems systematically – skills that are critical to success in the 21st century.

It’s exciting to wake up each morning and see what’s new on the site”

Mitchel Resnick, Professor of Learning Research at the MIT Media Lab and head of the Scratch development team

Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten research group previously developed the “programmable bricks” that inspired the award-winning LEGO® MINDSTORMS® robotics kits.

Just as MINDSTORMS allows kids to control LEGO creations in the physical world, Scratch allows them to control media-rich creations on the Web.

Designed for ages 8 and up, Scratch is available by free download from the Scratch website ( The software runs on both PCs and Macs.

The MIT Media Lab is now collaborating with other organizations — including Intel, Microsoft, Samsung, BT, The LEGO Group, Motorola, and One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) – to create other versions and applications of Scratch, including versions for mobile phones.

The name Scratch comes from the technique used by hip-hop disc jockeys, who spin vinyl records to mix music clips together in creative ways. Similarly, Scratch lets kids mix together a wide variety of media: graphics, photos, music, and sounds.

A glance at the Scratch website ( reveals a kaleidoscope of projects created by kids: a story about a polar bear school, space attack games, and a break-dancing performance. Some creations are goofy and fun; some reveal serious social themes.

Children are constantly modifying and extending one another’s projects on the website – and learning from one another in the process.

And what do teachers think of this?

“There is a buzz in the room when the kids get going on Scratch projects.

Students set design goals for their projects and problem-solve to fix program bugs.

They collaborate, cooperate, co-teach.

They appreciate the power that Scratch gives them to create their own versions of games and animations”

Karen Randall, a teacher at the Expo Elementary School in St. Paul, Minnesota

Throughout the development process, the design team received feedback from children and teens at Intel Computer Clubhouses and school classrooms.

Scratch was developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten research group in collaboration with UCLA educational researchers, with financial support from the National Science Foundation and the Intel Foundation.

About Mitchel Resnick

He’s LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research and head of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Laboratory, explores how new technologies can engage people in creative learning experiences.

Resnick’s research group developed the “programmable brick” technology that inspired the LEGO MindStorms robotics kit.

He co-founded the Computer Clubhouse project, a worldwide network of after-school centers where youth from low-income communities learn to express themselves creatively with new technologies.

Recently, Resnick’s group developed Scratch, an online community where children program and share interactive stories, games, and animations.

Resnick earned a BA in physics at Princeton University (1978), and MS and PhD degrees in computer science at MIT (1988, 1992).

He worked as a science-technology journalist from 1978 to 1983, and he has consulted throughout the world on creative uses of computers in education.

He is author of Turtles, Termites, and Traffic Jams (1994), co-editor of Constructionism in Practice (1996), and co-author of Adventures in Modeling (2001).

8 Responses to “Is it a game? a learning tool? a programming language?”

  1. Rob Jara says:

    Hey, I quite like “Scratch,” at least on paper. I like how it enables children (and even adults) to elevate themselves from being just consumers to producers in the world of ever evolving media. And the other great thing about it is it’s free!

    • MegVa says:

      I like Scratch too, and am thinking of downloading it for my son. I agree with you that a huge part of what makes Scratch so attractive is how it takes the focus away from buying and places it on creating. The makers of Scratch drive this point home further by giving the program away for free.

      Scratch is obviously targeted at kids but it can be useful to older people who’d like an easy beginner’s course on programming. I know a lot of people who are interested in expanding their knowledge of computer programming but are intimidated by the complex language and codes used by computer programmers. Perhaps they and people like them would fine Scratch useful as well.

      By the way, sorry about the typo on the previous comment. I meant “Scratch”.

  2. MegVa says:

    A lot of school kids can benefit from having Snatch incorporated into their computer classes. In most cases, computer classes (for children in elementary and junior high school) are meant to teach children the “basics” of computer usage, discounting the fact that these children in all likelihood already know how to draw circles in Paint.exe and that for the child to stay current in a technologically-driven society, the child needs to know a bit more about computers early on.

    • Grzegorz Pietruczuk says:

      Absolutely Meg, in some cases children know a lot more, compared to teachers, when it comes to computers hardware and so on. Learning more about programming is the way to go.

    • Rob Jara says:

      And more than learning about computers at an early age, Meg, I think Scratch (not Snatch, :)) addresses the need for children to understand that technology, even at its general sense, doesn’t only feed us information and knowledge; it also allows them to harness and develop it in producing the same.

      • MegVa says:

        Sorry about the typo, Rob; I meant Scratch. I agree. General is better than nothing; Scratch or programs like it (like the one Greg mentioned) should really be incorporated into schools’ curriculum. Another great benefit is that Scratch teaches children the joys of creating, and shows them that sharing their creations is a rewarding and fruitful experience.

  3. Grzegorz Pietruczuk says:

    Scratch reminded me about something I have seen some time ago. The website is, worth checking out. It enables users to create mathematical, logical or porgramming riddles and challenges, that can be placed on user’s websites, blogs etc.

    Maybe a bit more complicated than Scratch, but some people may find it interesting.

    • Rob Jara says:

      That sounds interesting Greg, even for someone like me who doesn’t really dig Math and computing stuff. The challenge here I think relies not only on the developers of Scratch, or other related initiatives, to introduce and propagate this innovation among a wider audience but also on the users who participate in this endeavor. Technology and innovation are never a one way street, after all.

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