Scratchin’ at the (Catalan) Crossroads


The first European Scratch Conference at Citilab, Barcelona at the end of July 2013 was a unique experience, spearheaded by Joek van Montfort (@xota). Joek had visited us in Ireland at CESI conference weekend and Dojocon, and it was his drive that attracted us to the conference. The CESI Executive dispatched myself and John Hegarty to attend. We were not sorry, and it was great to get there and find that Ireland was so well represented. Our self-styled “Fellowship of the Fáinne” included @saorog, @jhegarty, @magsamond, @digitalmaverick, @groganbee, @snicreamoinn, @jwhelton, @rorymcgann1, @eugenemcd and @ycmcinerney. Clare and James were both keynoting, I was on an Ignite bench and as ever Stephen was apparating everywhere (and as ever his Kinect, Leap and Scratch joie de vivre drew an appreciative crowd where e’er he showed his wares).

Pedagogically this was a very serious conference. Both Mitch Resnick and Karen Brennan of Scratch MIT were keynoting, and one exercise involved the whole audience offering their mini SWOT analysis (ok SWOT/SCOT, grams/ ounces, tomato/tomahto – some day we will get both sides of the Atlantic in sync.) to be collated. The results are on the MIT Scratch.ed site. They make good reading.

If you check out the 4 min vid on YouTube you may spot at least Mags, John, Clare and Stephen among the faces and voices. The Twitter stream, (which trended in Iberia at least for part of the weekend of the conference) #Scratch2013BCN, is still live and ticking.

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So what did I talk about? It was titled Scratchin’ at the Crossroads for more than one reason. I was wearing several virtual hats – second level teacher, Coderdojo mentor, CESI volunteer. In school I have found Scratch to be a terrific tool to bring students together in the Computer Lab – it can be quite solitary otherwise – and for a dyed-in-the-wool Cooperative Learning advocate that can only be a good thing (my apologies to David and Roger Johnson, my reference to you fell off slide 6). It has given my students confidence to step across a threshold into coding they might otherwise have shied away from. Scratch is also at the interface of other areas in Irish education – we are about to introduce Programming to our official school curriculum across the whole country, and Scratch is definitely going to help non-coding teachers across that scary threshold. Scratch is also an element in a lot of Coderdojos in Ireland, and while it has its equally zealous advocates and adversaries, it is there to stay so it is important that we use it to its full potential. (and did I fit all that into a 5 minute Ignite talk? I did – I can talk almost as fast as @saorog when I need to.) It is here, with the other Ignite talks. I haven’t watched it yet…what is it about hearing and seeing oneself? Eeuugghh.

The sessions I loved, that inspired me, came from all over Europe and America. A full programme, and lots of pictures and reports, are here at the super Conference website
The top three for me were, in reverse order of presenter height (!)

  • Drew Buddie’s (one of three presentations he brought) idea of embedding Jesse Schell’s Learning Lenses into Scratch lessons. Drew won the admiration of the entire audience for delivering a riveting lesson even though every possible piece of tech (wifi, projectors, computers, cables) failed to work. It was a beautiful lesson, both the content, and the delivery. Thanks for the inspiration Drew!Screen shot 2013-10-22 at 22.57.31
  • the youngsters of the Tech Volunteer team led by mentor Margaret Low @megjlow – they brought the house down with their giant human sized walk through of a Scratch program, which was central to their story of helping young students think their way through programs. I am sooooh stealing this idea. Watch the end of the Ignite talks above to get a flavour of the fun.ignite-tech-vol
  • Dan Garcia‘s talk was titled “The Beauty and Joy of Computing“, but any teacher in the room would have called it “The Beauty and Joy of Being in the Classroom of a Gifted Teacher”. Period. It was a wonderful presentation of a wonderful story of the transformation of CS in Berkley using interventions including Scratch’s nerdy cousin Snap. I want him on tap, here, now, in Ireland.dan1

And the was fun in the learning at the conference. People were still teaching and teching and hacking and sharing over coffee and tapas at every break, and over dinner each evening. The wonderfully hospitable Catalan teacher Frank Sabaté (@franksabaté) took a huge group on a walking tour of Barcelona on Wednesday night. Our Fellowship had a great Thursday evening of tapas and beer in the city in the company of the sartorially unique @digitalmaverick and fellow Scot Peter Donaldson.conf2

While we were in Citilab the MakeyMakey addicts got us all to gather and hold hands to complete a human circuit – there we are pictured above, ready for the Guinness Book of Records, miaow!

So from me it is a big GRMA to CESI for sending me and John. Now I am finally off, three months hence, to make my Scratch hexaflexagon – watch out for it at the next CESI TeachMeet…






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