Scratch's 10th Anniversary

The Scratch programming language and community is ten years old and we celebrated that last night at a gala in NYC where the Scratch Foundation raised funds to support their work and they chose to honor me for our K12 CS Ed work in NYC.

Here’s what I said to those who were there, I thought it would be nice to share it with the world.

If you want to be filled with joy, take off the morning, head off to one of hundreds of middle school or high school buildings in NYC, and check out an introduction to software engineering class. Or go visit an elementary school home room where the teacher is doing a computing module in a history or science lesson.

Here is what you will see. Roughly thirty young students, slightly more than half girls, and a rainbow of race, religion, and means. You will see girls in hijabs, boys with afros, kids who speak Spanish or some other language at home, all sitting together working on some sort of creative project, often in teams, solving problems, getting excited, and doing something that challenges them and interests them.

And there’s a good chance that the software they are running on their computers will be Scratch, a visual programming language that makes building software as easy as building a Lego project. But Scratch is way more than a programming language. It is a community, free for everyone to use, now more than 70mm large, where the software creators share what they made with others and let others reuse and remake what they made. It is remix culture for making stuff on a computer.

Scratch is also a gateway drug to serious software engineering. I know many young adults who started on Scratch and now work on some of the most serious programming challenges in computer science at big tech companies, startups, and the top research labs and universities.

Scratch is a gift to the world from Mitch Resnick and his team of colleagues at the MIT Media Lab. You all know the saying, “don’t give someone a fish, teach them to fish”? Well that is what Mitch and his colleagues are doing with Scratch and they are doing it for tens of millions of people all around the world. I suspect the magnitude of this gift they have given the world is on the order of things like the personal computer, the smartphone, and the web. It’s that big.

When I got interested in making sure every young person in the NYC public school system could learn to instruct a machine about seven or eight years ago, I didn’t really know how we were going to make that happen. Like most things I do, our organization, called CSNYC, just threw ourselves at the problem, listened and learned from those, like Mitch, who had been working on the problem for a long time, and we tried lots of things.

One of the things we tried early on at The Academy For Software Engineering was Scratch. AFSE is a new public high school we started five years ago where students learn computer science and which has a few students in attendance tonight. And it has become an essential tool in our CS4All curriculum all over NYC. I see it in elementary school classrooms, I see it in middle schools, and I see it in high schools. I don’t know of a better way to get a student programming a computer than firing up the browser and pointing it to

There are certainly other tools that are used to teach programming in K12 classrooms across NYC and across the country and the world. Scratch can’t teach everything. But it can get the student going, excited, productive, and hooked. And that is the biggest step.

So while I am honored to be recognized this evening for the work we are doing in NYC and around the country, I want to make sure that everyone knows that our work would be impossible without the fundamental building blocks that have been put in place over the last 15-20 years, and Scratch is right up there at the top of that list.

So thank you to the Scratch Foundation for this honor but mostly thank you for doing what you do and let us all help them keep doing that.

PS – Michael Preston, who runs CSNYC, sent me this photo of the students who sat with us at our table last night and Sean Stern who left a good paying job writing software for Amazon to teach them. A picture tells the entire story.

#hacking education#hacking philanthropy

Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    “threw ourselves at the problem”….I like that approach a lot, where you figure things out later, and don’t wait for all the answers before starting something. Curious if Scratch is available in french?

    1. Michael Preston

      Scratch is available in 50+ languages. They have 12 million community members around the world – it would be interesting to see that represented by country and language.

      1. William Mougayar


  2. awaldstein

    I love this Fred.As I mentioned before, when you speak of your dedication to the schools of NY, I think of my Dad. Born into the slums of Paterson, went out and got a PHD in physics in night school at NYU, then decided to not work in the industry but to go back and dedicate his life to teaching kids science to get a better life in his old neighborhood.He would shake your hand, look you in the eyes, and say Well Done!

    1. Twain Twain

      We can tell the make of a person by their dedication not only to their love of learning but also to the enlightenment of others.I’ve said this before: your Dad was a great man.

      1. awaldstein

        Thanks.Over the years scores of kids he taught reached out to me on Facebook to say the same.A good man.

        1. Twain Twain

          My parents became teachers in the years before their retirement, after careers in industry.From time to time, my Mum and I bump into students she taught when they were 6. My Dad taught 16-18. The parents always have huge smiles when they see my Mum and they say their kids stayed in school and are now at university because of her and my Dad.So I relate to the pride and respect you feel about your Dad.

          1. awaldstein


  3. Mike Zamansky

    Scratch and similar tools can be wonderful early intros and while, as I’m sure you know, my concern has been either misapplication or poor transitions from tools like scratch to next steps. Regardless of where or how scratch has been deployed, the huge thing that they got right is, as you said “it’s a community.”

    1. PhilipSugar

      I agree completely.You have to realize that the goal of languages like Scratch and especially for me Lego Mindstorms do is allow kids to get a quick win and understand at a very simplistic level how programming works.But I will agree as you build big applications you really need to get into the “guts”. Some of the most talented people I know used to program in assembler language.I will use a car analogy since I am a wrench head: It’s great to start off just doing minor upgrades but eventually you need to get down to the pistons and camshafts to understand the engine.

      1. Rob Underwood

        Full disclosure as I am an advisor to them, but this is what I (and I think Mike Z too) like a lot about Codesters – a student can start with block-based programming and then switch over, in the same program they are writing, to text based Python whenever they are ready.

        1. PhilipSugar

          We are in complete agreement. It’s like saying to a child you have to start math with calculus.

          1. Twain Twain

            Toddlers can do abstract differentiation and integration better than a lot of Machine Vision AI!Show a toddler a panda once or twice and they can tell it’s not a gibbon whereas the machine can’t.https://uploads.disquscdn.c…If AI makes such simple mistakes with images (and trying to probability guess what’s there), good luck to AI researchers applying the same techniques to differentiating “fake news” — LOL.I love Scratch and agree with you: get down to the pistons and the camshfts to understand the engine.In the case of computing and AI, it really helps to know Maths.

        2. Mike Zamansky

          Even a great tool can be used poorly.While scratch is frequently used effectively as an intro, particularly with younger kids, we also see fly by night (and some not so fly by night) stem oil salesmen using these types of tools either very poorly or when inappropriate and while the kids might enjoy the experience, they’re at times set up to fail once they get to the next level.Oh – and I am indeed a big fan of Codesters.

      2. LE

        is allow kids to get a quick winI have always found that to be the case with computers and really anything that I have tried to learn. A quick win sucks you in. It’s always been the basis for the nominal (yet very productive and beneficial) programming that I have done. Start with the smallest part of the thing you are trying to achieve by writing a program then continue to build on it and make it better by adding more features.

        1. PhilipSugar

          It’s the same for new employees.I always want to know the plan to have the new employee to get a win in the first week, the first month, and the first quarter.After that the employee needs to get their own wins.

          1. cavepainting

            that’s a really impressive mindset. When employees know that you are looking out for them, they also look out for you. It becomes more of a relationship vs transaction when people are invested emotionally.

          2. PhilipSugar

            I used to just throw employees in the pool. DUMB. Blessed are those that learn from their mistakes. Thrice blessed are those than learn from others. Make their first day a special day. Everything ready, everything planned. Then get those wins. If they don’t get the wins you made a wrong hire. If you are great that happens less than five percent of the time. But it does happen

        2. cavepainting

          Yes, the “minimum viable lesson” is the one that delivers a win or an emotional high.

  4. Stephen Bradley

    Fun post! Scratch was actually my gateway drug BACK to coding! I started life as an engineer coding mainly in Pascal and developing some of the most advanced raster and vector graphics algorithms of the day, including some of the very first anti-aliased fonts (if you can believe there was life before). I was eager to build businesses though and quickly left my coding responsibilities behind…a decision I often lament to this day. But as a result I haven’t programmed in nearly 30 years!Until i met Scratch a couple years ago! I always felt the investment was a bit too daunting to learn an entirely new language just to have some fun coding again. But I just started playing with Scratch and immediately had a blast. I made up a graphically-driven game and set out to build it in Scratch… and ultimately did so successfully. Admittedly some of the fixed constructs made the end product more challenging… but so what?! It was tremendously rewarding and fun to accomplish, not to mention great therapy, and I would have never been doing any of it if I hadn’t gotten hooked on scratch on the first place!I had no idea about all the community and universal interest around it though, so thank you for The Knowledge here… I’ll definitely have to continue the exploration!

  5. Guy Lepage

    Scratch is such an important project. It not only helps K-12 students but schools such as Harvard use Scratch in their CS50 curriculum to help early computer science students to quickly learn programming and how to solve problems. Very cool to hear of their 10th anniversary.

  6. Rob Underwood

    This is great Fred. Thank you for all the hard work.I think we’re at an interesting time with this latest round of interest in CS in schools. There was a ton of buzz a couple years ago about this as this round was kicking into high gear. It feels a bit like this is waning now a tad. As one friend of mine likes to say “Everyone thinks we’re done. They think ‘Didn’t we already do that?’ They don’t know we’ve barely begun.”Some critics have asked why it’s taking 10 years to get CS education into all 1,700 NYC schools. Shouldn’t it take a year or two? Can’t it be done in a month? Let’s just disrupt the schools and all those teachers with their summers off and work days that end at 3 and we can get this done in a week!But when you actually go to schools, spend time in classrooms, see all the broken old Windows 98 computers and unreliable WiFI if it exists at all, and then realize that getting CS in schools is also a giant workforce development (i.e., teacher PD) task, you may conclude 10 years is aggressive.It’s one thing to go out to a Title 1 school in the Bronx or Brooklyn for an hour or two and play around on a smart board in front of a classroom to solve some logic puzzles and feel like you’ve saved the world (or at least assuaged some guilt associated with your own good fortune and privilege). It’s quote another thing to be it in for the long haul, when the cameras are not there, and you’re left with just the hard work. Both Fred and Mitch have stuck with it.Point being that if we’re serious about CS is schools it takes sustained effort and commitment which, to both their credit, Mitch and Fred have demonstrated. This is also is why fundraisers like last night and the overall financial commitment we each can make is more important than ever. It’s a huge lift and it costs money.

    1. LE

      Rob – How does the teachers union play into this discussion? Are they on the side of more CS education and replacing the broken (hard to believe) Windows 98 computers or do they think that money spent there will simply mean less money for teacher pay? I have always been led to believe by both teachers that I know and articles that I have read that the root of all evil is the teachers union and the lifers (admins) in some schools. Is that correct?

      1. Rob Underwood

        Re infrastructure see….I don’t think the teacher’s union is a/the problem. Rather I think a larger issue is our nation’s continued disrespect of public school teachers and the profession overall. It’s a not trivial task to come in and ask a teacher 10-15 years in to her/his career to go learn CS in order that they may teach it in their class, despite that in most states it’s still not an official subject (i.e, a subject for which a teaching certificate exists). And yet the teachers I’ve worked with and know – and that’s a great many (that’s true for Fred too) – have been largely enthusiastic in embracing this.The problem is when people come in — often privileged affluent white ppl who did not attend public schools and have chose not to send their kids to public school – with the premise that the teachers and their union are the problem and that the schools just need to be disrupted. Thankfully this is not the approach that our host nor Mitch have taken.

      2. Mike Zamansky

        The teachers union has very little to do with this. The only official UFT action I remember was actually trying to start something to prepare teachers to teach CS. It was badly designed and I don’t think it ever went anywhere but it was a number of years before the city got on the CS train. Lifer teachers / admins sometimes (particularly if they’re in subject areas that could be cut for CS).While the teachers union has many problems, IMO most of Ed problems that can be addressed without fixing larger societal issues come from principals and the DOE.Of course, individual school chapters can be supportive or obstructionist on any issue and that varies from school to school.

  7. Jonty Kelt

    Fred, this is really inspiring.Question: I’m interested how I can help accelerate adoption of Scratch (and coding generally) in my home country (NZ) and am wondering the best way to observe an introductory class or two here in NYC? Any suggestions appreciated. Thanks, Jonty

  8. David Semeria

    Here’s a Scratch pinball project I did a few years ago with my kids. I go back to it quite often – don’t know why, but I find it strangely relaxing.

    1. awaldstein

      Looks like a schematic of my brain though my brain has less moving pieces.

      1. David Semeria


    2. LE

      Upvote just for ‘hyman roth’.

      1. David Semeria

        And do you know the reason I never got whacked? Because I always made money for my partners….

  9. pointsnfigures


  10. onowahoo

    I took off the morning and checked out an intro to software engineering class at the local middle school. It didn’t go as smoothly as described. I do not suggest. Texting from cell inside a cell.

  11. DJL

    This is awesome. We need something like this in every public school. Is there some type of “starter kit” we can use to model in other school systems? (I just hope the middle-class white kids gets get to program too! :>)

  12. DJL

    BTW – back in the 80s the MIT Media Lab was working on a visual programming language called “logo” (I think that was the name?) Kids were using it to move Lego parts. Is scratch at all an off-shoot of this effort?

    1. PhilipSugar

      See my comment this was the beginning of Lego Mindstorm:…Our company sponsors a team. This year we came in third in the State Championships.

      1. DJL

        Wow. Very cool. My son is only 6 but he would go nuts with this.

        1. PhilipSugar

          Kids pick it up very quickly.

  13. creative group

    FRED:How many times will we need to let you know something you already know?Your philanthropic work is freaken inspiring and motivational.Thanks for sharing.

  14. Richard Dedor

    AVC Community … who is the “Fred Wilson” of Des Moines? I’m not looking for funding of any kind. I’m looking for the energy and passion of Fred here.

  15. Kihong Bae

    Thanks for the great post on Scratch. Full disclosure here that I am an investor in Sketchware, an app to create an app using the Scratch methodology, but would like to hear what people think about this app(thanks in advance!)

  16. Sebastian Wain

    If you want to teach programming to younger kids (< 7) don’t forget to try ScratchJr. It works in iOS and Android tablets, the kids don’t need to know how to read because the blocks have symbols, and they move the blocks with gestures instead of drag and drop.

  17. maxniederhofer

    This is such a wonderful thing to have done. Makes me want to start something similar in Berlin.