By Andy Harris
Computers can be fun—no doubt about it, and computer games and animations can be specially appealing. While
not all games are good for kids (in this
way, computer games are no different
than books or movies), games are clearly
appealing to kids.
It might be possible to channel this
fascination into something that supports
the learning mission rather than detracting from it. Used properly, games and
animations can be used as an interesting
way to motivate history lessons, demonstrate ideas, explore the world, and (
especially) reinforce math ideas. The best
way to make games work for good is to
see gaming as a creative endeavor. It’s
fine to play games made by others, but it’s
much more fun to build your own.
Game programming has long been
known as one of the most challenging
forms of computer programming. The
demands of gaming are challenging,
and the need to constantly push the limits of the hardware requires significant
mathematics. Still, there can be ways to
teach game development to kids.
Game development does not have to
be difficult or expensive. The Lifelong
Kindergarten Lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a remarkable free tool called Scratch, which
enables even young students to create
remarkable games and animations with
no previous programming knowledge.
Along the way, they learn quite a bit
about math, science, and logic.
In this article, I will introduce you to
Scratch and show you how to use it in
your homeschool. It will be great fun.
However, this is not a tutorial. I’ll show
you exactly how to get started, but then
the rest of the article is designed as a series of challenges. I’ll give you hints and
examples, but part of the fun is working
together with a friend or parent to discover how everything works.
The first step is to download and install
Scratch. This program is available for free
for all major operating systems: scratch.
mit.edu. While you’re at the MIT website, look over all the great resources
there. The kids will probably just start
playing, but parents may want to learn