Scratching away – Meet the Thunderbolt Kids

scratchAs part of the Learning Creative Learning course that I am doing, run by the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT Media Lab, we were introduced to Scratch. We were encouraged to create our own project to introduce ourselves. Scratch was developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten group (love that name!), as it is their mission to develop new technologies, looking back to kids for inspiration, thus expanding the range of what people can design, create and learn. And Scratch certainly achieves this!

Scratch is a programming language and online community that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, games, animations, and simulations—and share your creations online. As young people create and share Scratch projects, they learn to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively, while also learning important mathematical and computational ideas.

I got so engrossed in creating my first Scratch project and spent quite a bit of time doing it! I really enjoyed it. It’s not very advanced, but does have quite a few different sprites and scenes. I mostly used changes in back drop colours as events. I am sure there are more elegant ways of doing some of the things that I did, but still need to play around a bit more to do this. Instead of introducing myself, I decided to introduce 4 kids who are quite special to me, called the Thunderbolt Kids!

Click here to view my project on Scratch and Meet the Thunderbolt Kids (I tried to embed the game in this post, but it just would not cooperate!).

You can also take a look inside to see what my programme looks like and how the “code” works. Here is a screenshot of mine:

Screenshot from 2014-04-11 10:45:21As you can see, you use blocks which you snap together to control the game and the various sprites (my sprites are all the cartoon characters at the bottom left). This makes learning to code very accessible, and not only to children, but to anyone. You don’t have to worry about “syntax errors” for example! I am still new to programming and do not have much experience. I did complete Coursera’s Introduction to Interactive Programming in Python last year. This course also focused on developing games to learn Python, but it is an intensive introduction. I found that Scratch was a really fun, light weight introduction to understand the logic behind coding without worrying about learning a new language. Have a look at this simple code to control the paintbrush in my game so that people can click on it and use their mouse to draw on a canvas while the ink changes colour:

The code used to control the paintbrush in my game so that people can click on it and draw on a canvas while the ink changes colour.Something really important that I have taken away from this exercise, as well as participating in the Creative Learning course, is that coding is an enabler for creative thinking. Have a look at the following video by Mitch Resnick, Director of the Lifelong Kindergarten group, as he describes how in learning to code, you then start coding to learn. An enlightening comparison is how when you are younger you first learn to read, and then you start reading to learn. Mitch explains how teaching coding to children actually, more importantly, teaches creative thinking, problem solving, how to design a project and communicate your idea. These are skills that will benefit someone throughout their lives, even if they never become programmers or software developers, or see the inside of a programme again. Read more in Mitch’s article “Learn to code, code to learn” here.

Another great feature of Scratch is that you can share your project and then others can use it to create their own, adapting and building upon it – in other words, remixing. This facilitates the growth of a community, collaboration and peer to peer learning. These are common themes amongst the Lifelong Kindergarten group, as we have also been discussing in our Creative Learning course. For example, there are several hundred of us around the world currently taking part in this course, and what I have really enjoyed about it, compared to other MOOCs that I have done, is that it seems much more personal, and they have really made it easier to interact with each other and collaborate online. Have a look at the map below which all of us pinned ourselves onto with a short bio and contact details. This has also enabled online collaboration to become offline collaboration as people in the same areas organize meet ups.


3 spheresThis ethos really resonates with what we do at Siyavula. The three foundations that Siyavula is built on are community, openness and technology. We strongly believe and embrace collaboration, the sharing of ideas and community building, especially in the creation of our open textbooks. I myself, have found it hugely rewarding to work with volunteers, brainstorm ideas and get the input from a wide audience. I hope to continue to be an active part in growing the community of open practice, collaboration and sharing in South Africa.

Back to the Thunderbolt Kids

These 4 kids come from the original project called Kusasa, developed in Cape town, South Africa. It’s an educational resource aimed at developing analytical and critical thinking skills, using role models, stories, computer modeling, experiments and lesson plans. At Siyavula, we obtained the Thunderbolt Kids from the Shuttleworth Foundation and used the 4 kids as guides in our Gr 4-6 openly licensed content for Natural Sciences and Technology, which you can view here: This was the content that I developed in 2012, and why I got to know these 4 kids so well 🙂

The original Kusasa material is based on Squeak, but we would like to rework it in the future to rather use Scratch and serve it as an online course. I think before, many teachers did not find it that easy to implement and use the Kusasa material using an an offline learner management system that was quite complex. I would like to integrate the projects with what learners are covering in class in Science and Technology, so that although it is extra curricular, kids will be learning creative thinking skills, which links to what they are doing in class during the day.

I also think that we can develop a more engaging, relevant technology curriculum to replace the existing one in Gr 4-9 in South Africa. One that draws on amazing tools, such as Scratch, taking things apart, building things up, robotics, digital design, creative arts, etc. I think that by allowing kids to investigate, research and design projects that span different subjects at school, including Science, Technology, Maths, Art and Drama, it could provide a much more meaningful, real world, stimulating educational experience. Watch this space 🙂

3 thoughts on “Scratching away – Meet the Thunderbolt Kids

  1. Hi Megan,

    You are always coming up with something amazing!

    Thanks for sharing

    Sent via my BlackBerry from Vodacom – let your email find you!


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