At the beginning of last summer, Corrie Meyer, math teacher at West High, was looking for a way to engage her 9th grade immersion students. She wanted something fun but practical – something that would keep kids’ interest but also build logical reasoning, a necessary skill in mathematical pursuits.
She decided to try out programming, using an application called Scratch.
Scratch is a project created by MIT to encourage upper elementary and middle school students to pursue computer science, but has been adopted by teachers in a number of different curricular areas at high school and collegiate levels. In i’s basic use, Scratch allows students to tell stories by animating characters through a programming language that looks like puzzle pieces.
Geometry and Programming
After a successful first run in the summer school program, Corrie introduced the software to Kristin Judd, a fellow geometry teacher, as a way to give the abstract concept of geometry proofs some applied context. The two decided to use it as an introductory activity this year. When asked about the relationship between programming and the geometry curriculum, Kristin observed,
“In the past, students really struggled with ‘if, then’ statements. It was hard for students to grasp the implications behind each step of the proof. With Scratch, they keep asking ‘What do I need to do to make it work?’ They learn that they have to use the language of the system to explain to the program what they want it to do. It’s the same with proofs – students need to learn the language so that they can explain to others the steps necessary to solve the problem.”
Leveraging an Authentic Audience
In addition to designing the application itself, the staff at MIT have built a website to show off student projects, creating an authentic audience beyond the classroom. It’s this aspect that has really impressed Corrie.
“One of my favorite things about Scratch is that I’m not the only audience for the kids. Kristin and I had our students turn in their projects by posting them on the Scratch website. Then anyone who visits the website can see the projects and comment on them. Their projects are also then available to download, so anyone can take it and improve it. So in theory, kids from different schools (even different countries, if you check!) could collaborate very easily. Our students were so excited when someone commented on their work. Its a very tangible, real-world contribution as opposed to just a homework assignment.”