Earlier this month we were fortunate to have Ricarose Roque from Lifelong Kindergarten at MIT Media Lab join us as a tinkerer-in-residence for two weeks. We learned about some of the latest developments in Scratch programming language and got to have some deep discussions about facilitation, specifically regarding her family creative learning (FCL) workshops.
Sebastian has been spending the most time recently with Scratch, using it as a tool to help teachers develop tools to visualize data about the outside world. Once he explained the project, Ricarose quickly thought of some existing Scratch projects that could work well to interact with the homemade sensors that Sebastian created using the audio port on his laptop.
We loved this game build by someone in New Zealand and actually got the wind outside the museum to power the electricity in her virtual house.
Ricarose also shared the "Monster Mash" activity that she's used as a introduction to Scratch. Its a quick way to get going with some simple programming where you draw a creature, take a photo, upload it to scratch as a sprite, and then you program it to join a ghoulish "dance party" with other people's creations.
This seems like the type of initial experience with Scratch that could be used on an exhibit like a converted animation station set up for a lightly facilitated introduction to programming.
Ricarose also spent time with us on the floor facilitating and prototyping chain reaction. We've been inspired by videos made by the LLK crew incorporating digital elements into the physical chain reaction and thought we could start some experiments in that direction.
We got some WeDos special delivery from MIT and experimented in the Learning Studio a bit with creating chain reaction elements using makey makeys as inputs and the WeDo motors as outputs. We were especially interested in how the new feature of 'cloud variables' on Scratch could be used to trigger chain reaction elements remotely.
In this video, a sensor attached to Ricarose's computer detects the input but is not linked physically with the motors attached to the other two computers, which could technically be anywhere in the world. This use of cloud variables in the Scratch software opens up the potential for a globe spanning rube goldberg machines.
After this proof of concept, we decided to all work together to flesh out the idea a little bit more. Ricarose led a quick intro to Scratch for our team and then we started messing around with the tilt and distance sensors as well as the motors. Kate and Sebastian made this animation that moved when the deconstructed toy vibrated to trigger the WeDo sensor.
And on the last day of Ricarose's residency with us, we tried to go ahead and bring out one computer to try to see if we could incorporate scratch into the larger chain reaction activity
It was interesting to see how people reacted to having a computer out among the materials. Some kids immediately identified scratch and said they had used the program before, but they we're much less comfortable "playing with the blocks" vs testing out physical materials.
In the first chain reaction of the day, we ended up with a really nice section of the machine that used both the computer screen and the WeDo motors. Ricarose created a sprite that matched the green truck with the ping pong ball and a group of middle schoolers calibrated the motor just right to fling the ball into a array of dominoes to set of the next element of the contraption.
Scratch and other types of programming can be challenging for us to think of incorporating to the museum floor because they take some time to get comfortable enough to start to "tinker" with the phenomenon. It was great to spend a couple weeks with Ricarose and get some great starting points both for scratch on it's own and as a tool to think creatively about chain reactions.