By Joel Burgess

Mitchel Resnick, one of the researchers at the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT’s media lab, has developed the new software application Scratch.

Primarily aimed at children, Scratch does not require prior knowledge of complex computer languages. Instead, it uses a simple graphical interface that allows programs to be assembled like building blocks. The digital toolkit allows people to blend images, sound and video.

“Computer programming has been traditionally seen as something that is beyond most people – it’s only for a special group with technical expertise and experience,” said Professor Mitchel Resnick. “We have developed Scratch as a new type of programming language, which is much more accessible. . .With Scratch, our goal is to allow people to mix together all kinds of media, not just sounds, in creative ways,” said Professor Resnick.

“With Scratch we want to let kids to be the creators. We want them to create interesting, dynamic things on the computer. Kids make programs by snapping blocks together,” said Professor Resnick.

Objects and characters, chosen from a menu and created in a paint editor or simply cut and pasted off the web, are animated by snapping together different “action” blocks into stacks.

So, for example, if someone wanted to animate a cat walking across the screen, they could modify the move block to tell the cat to walk forward 10 steps. If they then wanted the cat to bang a drum as it walked, they could stack the play-drum block underneath, choosing a sound for the instrument and how long each beat should last. Other actions, such as speaking, changing color or triggering music, can then be added to complete the animation.

“Kids like to share stuff on the web and I think that is a very strong element of Scratch,” said Professor Nigel Shadbolt of the University of Southampton and President of the British Computer Society (BCS).

He believes that it will be a useful tool for teaching children about computational thinking and enthusing “the next generation” of IT professionals.

“The thing that’s very difficult for children encountering programming for the first time is that it is very unforgiving,” said Professor Shadbolt.

“A program doesn’t congratulate you for the 90% that you got right. It fails for the 10% you got wrong. So an environment where you are essentially assembling components that can only be configured in set ways takes some of that hardship away.”

Scratch is inspired by the method hip hop DJs use to mix and scratch records to create new sounds.

Scratch may only be scratching its potential. Visit Scratch at: to learn more and to download the software for free.

Source: BBC News & Scratch Website