Back in May of 2007 the first beta copy of Scratch, a programming language for children, was released. Scratch was a free application developed by MIT Media Labs and it was easier to use when compared to more traditional programming languages as it consisted of graphical blocks that could be dragged from a palette and dropped into place to create interactive stories, animations and games. In 2009 Scratch 1.4 made an appearance and it became the most used stable version until January 2013 when Scratch 2.0 was released in beta format. Scratch 2.0 initially was web based and could be accessed via a Flash enabled browser; later that year an offline version of Scratch 2.0 was released. The popularity of Scratch in schools grew over the years as it allowed children to learn the fundamentals of programming. As Scratch has “a community” ethos and encourages sharing and uploading of programs, the Scratch programs can be remixed by others and Scratch projects can become a collaborative effort.
One of the frustrating features of Scratch is that it is only available as a desktop application! It only runs on laptops and desktop computers, Mac or PC. It simply doesn’t work successfully on tablet devices; there is however one caveat! The Flash based online Scratch 2.0 application can be accessed using the Puffin Browser app which handles Flash. However currently the creators of the Puffin Browser app require registration and a referral system to allow “free access” to Flash enabled web pages for a period of 4 weeks.
A HTML 5 project viewer that will allow Scratch projects to run on any device is currently under development by the Scratch community and the Scratch team is developing an app for tablets.
ScratchJr was released for tablet devices in July of 2014; it was developed by Tufts University in conjunction with the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT (Prof, Mitch Resnick). ScratchJr is designed for younger pupils aged 5 to 7 and focuses on maths and literacy. Initially ScratchJr was released for the iPad and subsequently released for Android devices.
ScratchJr has many similarities to Scratch; the Scratch Cat was restyled to appeal to younger pupils. In Scratch the programming blocks stacked top to bottom; in ScratchJr they stack left to right. ScratchJr hasn’t as many programming blocks as Scratch and as such is more restrictive in its use.
ScratchJr’s stage is a grid of 20 x 15 squares as opposed to Scratch’s stage which used pixels. A ScratchJr project is organised into “Pages” – scenes that hold sprites, background and broadcasts; each project can have 4 pages and the project is presented in a book format for children.
Many schools in Ireland are beginning to invest in tablet devices. I think ScratchJr will become one of those “must have” apps, not just for younger pupils but also for pupils in Senior classes.