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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Computer Programming For Kids 8 And Up

Maddy Petrovich, 14, of Wellesley, Mass. first started learning how to use the programming language Scratch when she was 10 years old.

Maddy Petrovich, 14, of Wellesley, Mass. first started learning how to use the programming language Scratch when she was 10 years old. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

At a time when parents are eager to give their kids an edge in math and science, several computer programming languages have been developed specifically for children.

“They were learning how to test and debug, they were learning how to break down problems.”

– Karen Brennan of Harvard Graduate School of Education

For example, Lego Mindstorms lets kids create their own small, customizable and programmable robots. And the programming language Scratch, developed at MIT’s Media Lab, lets kids create interactive stories, animations, games, music and art, and share them online.

Scratch has been downloaded more than a million times and is used by kids as young as eight years old.

While the programming languages are simpler than the ones used by professionals, they’re still teaching kids the foundations of computer science, according to Karen Brennan of Harvard Graduate School of Education, who helped develop the Scratch program at MIT’s Media Lab.

“They were learning how to test and debug, they were learning how to break down problems,” Brennan told Here & Now. “They started seeing the world in a new way, that computers weren’t something that other people did or other people think about, but computation becomes something that they can use to express themselves, that they can solve problems.”

Karen Brennan helped develop Scratch at MIT's Media Lab. (mit.edu)

Karen Brennan helped develop Scratch at MIT’s Media Lab. (mit.edu)

One Scratch user, 14-year-old Maddy Petrovich of Wellesley, Mass., said Scratch encourages “remixing” or building upon other people’s work.

“If you just sort of change the timing or what they say, people don’t really like that that much,” Petrovich said. “But if you sort of take the story and build off of it, then that’s definitely encouraged. Like, this project has six remixes. I like it when people remix my projects because it shows that people took interest in them. It was exciting because there’s actual people looking at this.”

Brennan has created a companion website for teachers called Scratch Ed that lets teachers share stories, exchange resources and ask and answer questions. More than 6,000 teachers, from kindergarten level through college, have joined the community, according to Brennan.

Guests:

  • Karen Brennan, helped develop the Scratch program at MIT’s Media Lab. She’s also an assistant professor of education at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. She tweets @karen_brennan.
  • Maddy Petrovich, a 14-year-old programmer in Wellesley, Mass.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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