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MIT Media Lab Debuts ScratchJr for Coding in K-2

Scratch has a new sibling. The MIT Media Lab-developed programming environment intended for children recently welcomed ScratchJr into the world of kids' coding tools. The new release is actually a free iPad app intended to help children ages five to seven learn to program interactive stories and games. Along the way, say the developers, these youngest students will also learn how to create with a computer, not just interact with it.

Young users snap together graphical programming blocks to make characters "move, jump, dance, and sing," says the App Store description. They can modify their characters in a paint editor, add their own voices and sounds and insert pictures of themselves. In the process, says the development team, students learn concepts about problem solving, design, creative expression and the use of math and language.

ScratchJr is a collaborative effort involving the Lifelong Kindergarten research group at the Media Lab, the Developmental Technologies Research Group at Tufts University, and the Playful Invention Company (PICO).

"Coding is the new literacy," declared Mitchel Resnick, head of the Lifelong Kindergarten. "Just as writing helps you organize your thinking and express your ideas, the same is true for coding. In the past, coding was seen as too difficult for most people. But we think coding should be for everyone, just like writing."

When young children code with ScratchJr, added DevTech Director Marina Umaschi Bers, "they develop design and problem-solving skills that are foundational for later academic success." By using math and language in "a meaningful context," she said, "they develop early-childhood numeracy and literacy."

Next steps for the app include taking it to other device platforms, adding new features for sharing projects and creating curriculum and support materials for teachers and parents.

The project was funded by the National Science Foundation, Code-to-Learn Foundation, Lego Foundation, and UK's BT. Those next development steps will be funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign that took two days to surpass its $25,000 goal.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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