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.”