C++ for Tots: MIT Hatches Programming for Novices

Computer programming is not just for grownups anymore, thanks to developers at the MIT Media Lab. Researchers in the Lab's "Lifelong Kindergarten Group" have created a program called Scratch, a graphical programming language that is designed to be used by programming novices, including children and teens.

With Scratch, the would-be programmer can snap together graphical blocks depicting different data types into stacks. The blocks are designed only to fit together if they actually work at the code-level.

One nifty feature: a user can make changes to stacks even when  programs are running, making it easy to experiment.

Another feature that might appeal to young programmers is that Scratch enables programs to easily mix in graphics, animation, and music, so that music and images might be associated.

On the Scratch website, visitors can try out other people's projects or re-use images and scripts. Eventually, the development team wants to create a shared community around Scratch.

A description of Scratch by the team notes that the they strove for simplicity sometimes at the expense of functionality. Even so, "as students work on Scratch projects, they have opportunities to learn important computational concepts such as iteration, conditionals, variables, data types, events, and processes."

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About the Author

Paul McCloskey is contributing editor of Syllabus.

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