MIT’s ScratchJr iPad app encourages children to ‘code to learn’

Jul 31, 2014 by

Kickstarter-funded educational programming app is inspired by the Scratch language used in schools around the world

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has released a new iPad app that aims to help 5-7 year-old children take their first steps in programming.

ScratchJr is a free app based on MIT’s existing Scratch programming language, which has become a popular choice for slightly older children learning to code in schools around the world.

The new app encourages children to “program their own interactive stories” using graphical programming blocks. It is a collaboration between MIT’s Lifelong Kindergarten research group, Tufts University’s Developmental Technologies team, and technology startup Playful Invention Company.

The ScratchJr project raised $77,474 on crowdfunding website Kickstarter earlier in 2014, having passed its original $25,000 goal in the first two days of its campaign. The project has also received funding from the National Science Foundation, Code-to-Learn Foundation, Lego Foundation and BT.

Although the app is currently iPad-only, its creators promised that if they raised more than $60,000 on Kickstarter, they would also launch it for Android devices later in 2014.

MIT is stressing to parents and teachers that ScratchJr is about more than simply learning to program, promising parents that children will also be developing their maths, problem-solving and language skills: “Children don’t just learn to code, they code to learn,” as its App Store listing puts it.

“As young children code with ScratchJr, they develop design and problem-solving skills that are foundational for later academic success, and by using math and language in a meaningful context, they develop early-childhood numeracy and literacy,” said Tufts professor Marina Umaschi Bers, in a statement.

“Coding is the new literacy. Just as writing helps you organize your thinking and express your ideas, the same is true for coding,” added MIT’s Mitchel Resnick. “In the past, coding was seen as too difficult for most people. But we think coding should be for everyone, just like writing.”

The ScratchJr app is on iPad, with Android to come
The ScratchJr app is on iPad, with Android to come

ScratchJr is one of a growing number of tablet and smartphone apps trying to teach children early programming skills. Competitors include Tynker – which recently expanded from iOS to AndroidHopscotch HD, Hakitzu Elite, Kodable, Lightbot and Move The Turtle.

Later this year, they will be joined by US company Play-i, whose app will be used to teach coding by programming a pair of toy robots called Boy and Yana. British startup Kano is about to start shipping its build-your-own-computer kit for children, including its own Kano Blocks visual programming language. Both firms ran high-profile crowdfunding campaigns.

Meanwhile, in the UK – where programming will become part of the national curriculum at a much earlier age from September – production company Aardman is running its Shaun’s Game Academy contest, encouraging children to create games based on its Shaun the Sheep character using Scratch.

via MIT’s ScratchJr iPad app encourages children to ‘code to learn’ | Technology |

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