Last year, I had the opportunity to review a book by No Starch Press about a computer programming software for kids called SCRATCH. My boys, being the computer junkies and one day hopeful video game designers, were passionately excited to use the book and learn how to make their own games.
Within the past year, SCRATCH has been revamped from a downloadable software to SCRATCH2.0, which is a web-based platform with online community. This is a terrific move, as it allows people to share, test, and build on each other’s work. But, it also made the original book we looked at need an upgrade. Some of the commands and interface have changed from the desktop version we started with a year ago. No Starch asked if I would like to share about their new book and sent me a copy to compare the two.
First of all, let me explain a little bit about SCRATCH itself.
SCRATCH is a free computer programming language designed by M.I.T, that is easy enough to be used by preschool children, yet still complex enough for adults of various programming abilities. It uses building blocks that already have coding fundamentals on them, allowing for changes in variables to create your own program. This means that kids can do it because it doesn’t rely on perfect spelling or elaborate typing skills. You literally drag-and-drop your code in order onto your creating board and test it from there.
At first glance, especially for kids, understanding the basics of how to use Scratch to make the program do what you want it to do can be a bit challenging. So, No Starch Press created a fun step-by-step tutorial book that they called the Super Scratch Programming Adventure.
The book is actually a combination of comic book and programming guide. After downloading the necessary programs from the NoStarch website, we open the book and follow along with computer science student Mitch as he encounters a strange cat from cyberspace named Scratchy. Together, they go on a crazy adventure.
Instead of chapters, you have “stages” – like in a game. Each stage has a comic section followed by step-by-step instructions for hands-on work with the SCRATCH program to design a game. The authors of this book designed it in such a way that new programmers would learn the concepts of coding by doing – so you jump right in, make a game and play. What my kids loved about this is that:
1. They can start creating games right away, instead of having to understand everything fully first. Some other programs we’ve tried had a lot of miscellany first that drained their interest quickly.
2. They can actually see what they are doing, and what the changes they make do while they do it. Being a very visual based programming language instead of text based, SCRATCH appeals to kids!
By the end of the book, readers have completed 6-7 games – ranging in complexity from moving the character around the screen to pick up stars, to old 8-bit style find-the-key-open-the-door game, to fighting a bad guy with weapon skills and health bars.