Monthly Archives: May 2017

Programming language and online community

Many of the children taking part in Scratch Day 2017 at the MIT Media Lab on May 6 were not even born when the Scratch programming language was released in 2007.
“It’s exceeded our expectations,” said MIT LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research Mitchel Resnick, head of the Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten research group, which develops Scratch. “We’re really excited about the way Scratch has enabled kids around the world to experiment, explore, and express themselves with computational tools. As children create and share Scratch projects, they’re learning to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively — essential skills for everyone in today’s society.”
Scratch is a free programming tool for children aged 8-16 to create animations, games, music, and interactive stories. It’s also an online community where children can share their projects and collaborate with one another. Over the past decade, more than 18 million people have joined the Scratch online community, from every country in the world except on the continent of Antarctica. Scratchers have shared more than 22 million projects, with 30,000 new ones every day.
Each year in May, children, parents, and educators gather at Scratch Day events to meet in person and to celebrate Scratch and ScratchJr, a simplified version for children aged 5-7, released in 2014. This month, on the 10th anniversary of Scratch, there are more than 1,100 Scratch Day events in almost 70 countries.
The May 6 event at the Media Lab drew 300 children, parents, and teachers from across the Boston area and beyond. When tickets were made available online last month, they sold out in just three hours.
The first to arrive was 16-year-old Jocelyn from Richmond, Virginia, whose Scratch username is CrazyNimbus. “Scratch was on our computers at school, and I discovered it just when I was looking for ways to learn how to code,” she said. Jocelyn started using the language offline when she was 11 and joined the online community the following year. “I originally signed up because I wanted to make a game, but then I found out how exciting and supportive the community was. I create all kinds of things — animations, stories, interactive games, whatever comes to mind. And the constructive feedback I get from other Scratchers inspires me to add more to my projects.”
“Jocelyn is essentially an ‘artsy’ kid,” said her father, Don Marencik. “But Scratch has helped her use her analytical side to learn computer science as a way to express her creative side.” Another benefit, Marencik said, is that gender, race, and other “labels” have no place in Scratch: “Everybody’s equal.” Jocelyn also runs Scratch camps, and last year she set up Got Tec Richmond to provide technology equipment to underserved students and teachers in the Richmond area.
“All of you have been part of how Scratch has changed over the past 10 years,” Scratch co-creator and Media Lab research scientist Natalie Rusk told the children as they sat on bean bags, laughing at pictures of how the Scratch Cat mascot has also evolved in that time. “Scratch really builds on the Logo programming language that came out of the work of Seymour Papert, who was a founding faculty member of the Media Lab,” Rusk explained. “The research has shown that the best way for kids to learn is by constructing something that’s personally meaningful to them. It’s by constructing something that you really start to think about your own ideas, and reflect on them. Kids try making something and see ‘Does that work or not?’ Then they fix it and get feedback from others. It’s by creating something that they care about that motivates them to problem solve and learn.”

Viral video created to combat media stereotypes

Layla Shaikley SM ’13 began her master’s in architecture at MIT with a hunger to redevelop nations recovering from conflict. When she decided that data and logistics contributed more immediately to development than architecture did, ­Shaikley switched to the Media Lab to work with Professor Sandy ­Pentland, and became a cofounder of Wise Systems, which develops routing software that helps companies deliver goods and services.
“There’s nothing more creative than building a company,” Shaikley says. “We plan the most effective routes and optimize them in real time using driver feedback. Better logistics can dramatically reduce the number of late deliveries, increase efficiency, and save fuel.”
But Shaikley is perhaps better known for a viral video, “Muslim Hipsters: #mipsterz,” that she and friends created to combat the media stereotypes of Muslim women. It reached hundreds of thousands of viewers and received vigorous positive and negative feedback.
The video “is a really refreshing, jovial view of an underrepresented identity: young American Muslim women with alternative interests in the arts and culture,” Shaikley says. “The narrow media image is so far from the real fabric of Muslim-­American life that we all need to add our pieces to the quilt to create a more accurate image.”
Shaikley’s parents moved from Iraq to California in the 1970s, and she and her five siblings enjoyed a “quintessentially all-­American childhood,” she says. “I grew up on a skateboard, and I love to surf and snowboard.” She feels deeply grateful to her parents, who “always put our needs first,” she adds. “When we visited relatives in Iraq, we observed what life is like when people don’t have the privilege of a free society. Those experiences really shaped my understanding of the world and also my sense of responsibility to give back.”
Shaikley says the sum of her diverse life experiences has helped her as a professional with Wise Systems and as a voice for underrepresented Muslim women.
“My work at MIT under [professors] Reinhard Goethert and Sandy ­Pentland was critical to my career and understanding of data as it relates to developing urban areas,” she says. “And every piece of my disparate experiences, which included the coolest internship of my life with NASA working on robotics for Mars, has played a huge role.”

Person of the world who wants to learn something

Raul Boquin, now an MIT senior, remembers the assignment from his freshman year as if it were yesterday. During a leadership workshop, he was asked to write a headline for a newspaper in his imagined future. The words that came to mind resonated so strongly that they now hang on the walls of his dorm room: “Equal opportunities in education for all.”
“I realized that I didn’t come to MIT because it was the best engineering school, but because it was the best place to discover what I was truly passionate about,” he says. “MIT pushed me to my limits and made me able to say ‘I don’t have to be the number one math person, or the number one computer science person, to make a difference’ with the passion I ended up having, which is education.”
Boquin, who is majoring in mathematics with computer science, predicts his life’s work will be to “find a way to adapt education to every person of the world who wants to learn something.”
More to education than teaching
Boquin’s first forays into education followed a relatively traditional path. As part of the undergraduate coursework he needed for his education concentration, he spent time observing teachers in local middle and high schools.
“But at the end of sophomore year, I realized that there was a lot more to education than just teaching.
The summer before his junior year, Boquin worked as a counselor and teaching assistant at Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics (BEAM). “It originally started as just a math camp for students in the summer, teaching them things like topology and number theory,” Boquin says. “These were seventh grade Hispanic and black children, and they loved it. And they were amazing at it.”
On a campus in upstate New York, Boquin taught classes by day and talked to students about his own work in mathematics by night. He also designed parts of the BEAM curriculum and came up with fun ways of teaching the lessons. “It was inspiring because it was like I wasn’t only a teacher, but I was a mentor and a friend,” he says.
Back at MIT, with the guidance of Eric Klopfer, professor and director of the Scheller Teacher Education Program and the Education Arcade, Boquin joined lead developer Paul Medlock-Walton to work on Gameblox, through MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP).