This collaborative project between Tufts University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is researching and developing a new version of the Scratch programming language to be called ScratchJr, designed specifically for early childhood education (K-2). The current version of Scratch, which is widely implemented, is intended for ages 8-16 and is not developmentally appropriate for young children. This work will provide research-based evidence regarding young children's abilities to use an object-oriented programming language and to study the impact this has on the children's learning of scientific concepts and procedures. The team will develop ScratchJr in an iterative cycle, testing it in both in the Devtech lab at Tufts and the Eliot Pearson lab school and with a wider network of early childhood partners. At the end of the three-year project, ScratchJr will have been tested with approximately 350 students in K-2, 40 parents, and 58 early childhood educators.
ScratchJr will have three components: 1) a developmentally appropriate interface, with both touch screen and keyboard/mouse options; 2) an embedded library of curricular modules with STEM content to meet federal and state mandates in early childhood education; and 3) an on-line resource and community for early childhood educators and parents. The research questions focus on whether ScratchJr can help these young children learn foundational knowledge structures such as sequencing, causality, classification, composition, symbols, patterns, estimation, and prediction; specific content knowledge; and problem solving skills.
This interdisciplinary proposal makes contributions to the fields of learning technologies, early childhood education and human computer interaction. ScratchJr has the potential for broad implementation in both formal and informal settings.
Can children learn to code at the same age theyâ€™re learning to tie their shoes? Thatâ€™s the question underlying ScratchJr, an introductory computer programming language developed by researchers at MIT Media Lab, Tufts University, and the Playful Invention Company, with financial support from the National Science Foundation. With ScratchJr (scratchjr.org), children ages 5-7 can program their own interactive stories and games. In the process, they learn how to create and express themselves with the computer, not just interact with it. To program in ScratchJr, children snap together graphical programming blocks to make characters move, jump, dance, and sing. Children can modify characters in the paint editor, add their own voices and sounds, even insert photos of themselves -- then use the programming blocks to make their characters come to life. ScratchJr was inspired by the popular Scratch programming language (http://scratch.mit.edu), used by millions of young people (ages 8 and up) around the world. The ScratchJr research team redesigned the Scratch interface and programming language to make them developmentally appropriate for younger children, carefully modifying features to match young children's cognitive, personal, social, and emotional development. The researchers developed ScratchJr through an iterative design process. During the course of the NSF grant, they developed and tested dozens of prototypes, continually revising and adapting the software based on field studies with children and teachers. The research team found that young children, as they programmed with ScratchJr, developed foundational knowledge (e.g., sequencing, causality, classification, composition, estimation, and prediction); discipline-specific knowledge (e.g., STEM content aligned with national and state frameworks); and problem-solving and design skills (e.g., decomposing problems into simpler parts, testing and debugging, iteratively adapting based on experience). The children were not just learning to code, they were coding to learn. ScratchJr was released as a free iPad app in summer 2014. The researchers expect to release an Android version later in 2014 and a web-based version in 2015.