Scratch-ing an itch

Scratch logo
Image via Wikipedia

Sorry for the awful pun. It had to be done.

For those who don’t know, Scratch is a programming language geared primarily at younger children. We use it with our S2 classes (around 12-13 years old) although I am aware of many primary schools who also introduce it to children at a younger age.

Frankly, after a bit of struggling to begin with, I’ve found it to be a great language. Sure it doesn’t have a solution to every problem and yes, you often have to fiddle around a lot to get it to do precisely what you want but for the level it’s aimed it, it’s a fantastic tool.

The best thing is the layout. It’s bright, clear and gives very fast results. The colour-coding of different data types makes it easy for children to spot how the programs are put together. There’s no typing necessary (other than the occasional number) as the programs are built using jigsaw pieces with code on. The pieces change shape dynamically as code is formed into loops and the like. All very pretty.

Over the holidays I spent an hour or two with Little Miss (aged 10) who was very impressed with the simplicity. She managed to create a couple of short animations on her netbook. I went into full-on geek mode and created the attached Ghostbusters game (no copyright theft intended – it just seemed like a nice name).

Use the mouse to point your gun in the right direction and the space bar to fire. There are seven levels, on each of which you have ten bullets and have to hit the ghost five times. Clear a level using exactly five bullets and you get a bonus.

You can download Scratch from http://scratch.mit.edu/ for free. There are versions for Windows, Mac and more penguin-oriented operating systems.

My ghost-busting title is available as a single file here: Ghostbusters (ZIP file, 2.8Mb)

UPDATE: you can play the game online here!

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