The Scratch Effect

Last night the Gotham Gal and I attended the annual benefit for the Scratch Foundation which provides financial support to the Scratch programming language and learning environment.

Mitch Resnick, founder of Scratch and leader of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab (I love that name so much I had to find a way to get it into this post), shared some numbers with the attendees last night:

In the last year, over 200 million people have used Scratch to make something, share something, or learn something.

I realize that not everyone who uses Scratch is a child, but the vast majority of them are.

There are roughly 2bn children on planet earth, so that means roughly 10% of our children used Scratch last year.

Think about that.

At our table, there were four high school students who I had invited to join us at the event. Two of them are ninth graders, just starting to learn to code and they are learning with Scratch. Two of them are seniors, experienced programmers who are experts in Java and a number of other languages. Four years ago, they learned to code on Scratch.

Scratch is the one ramp to learning to code. There really isn’t anything better to engage, excite, and inspire children to code something up and share it with the world.

And, right now, in 2018, 10% of our children are using it. I am confident that in a few years that number will be 30-50%, and I pray that some day it will be 100%.

#hacking education

Comments (Archived):

  1. Shalabh

    i like the term “our children” 🙂

  2. William Mougayar

    This page of Scratch statistics is quite impressive:…Median age is about 13.

  3. Tadashiyara

    Ok, take a deep breath and relax before reading this excerpt from a book I am reading. If the author’s point is not valid, why, what facts, trends, etc.?”A quick aside on coding. It’s trendy to assert that computer programming is a basic skill that everyone needs to master. That’s just one of the inane statements that get tossed around education circles because it sounds good. In reality, a few brilliant coders write the software the rest of us can draw on. As machine intelligence advances, the number of coding jobs could actually decline. There will, though, be an explosion of opportunities for those who know how to leverage machine intelligence.” from “What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers across America” by Ted Dintersmith

    1. Alex Murphy

      The point is not that everyone will code all day, everyone simply needs to know “how to” code. Understanding how AWS and all of its services work, and interconnect, makes a business leader more capable of deciding which direction to take.Knowing “how” creates empathy. Without that empathy, business owners think everything can be done in a week, or worse that it will take two quarters.Anyone here the objection, yeah that is on our road map for Q4 … only to see it get pushed to Q2 of next year, and so on. The only reason that happens is because of a lack of understanding of “how to” code.Learning how to code, and then treating the code like lego bricks is the point here. You have to understand how it all comes together to make your master piece.Two current examples:1. WordPress. It powers an extremely high percentage of sites. Is it coding? Sort of, and it can be, but its not really “coding.” Its building. Widget here, plugin there. But the best WP driven sites have code in them that is unique to that site.2. Stack. Of all the custom built sites out there, I’d guess more than 30% of the code has been copied and pasted from Stack. Some sites have a much higher percentage. And I’d guess that there are zero sites that have less than 20% of copied code. Jquery anyone?

      1. Kirsten Lambertsen

        I would also add about WordPress (capital P!) that hundreds if not thousands of coders have contributed to the core code over the years. Not an elite, brilliant few :)WordPress now powers 30% of *the web*

    2. fredwilson

      i know ted wellhere is what i think:everyone needs to be able to read codeit would be good if everyone was able to write some codethe most important code should be written by experts

      1. Tadashiyara

        I struggle with this as I teach robotics & coding to 2-6 grade, and in May, 9th graders. What coding fundamentals lead to critical thinking, problem solving, risk taking and learning from failure/mistakes, collaboration, empathy and communication? Coding is an important “end” as well as a “means to an end” I think.

        1. Kirsten Lambertsen

          Gosh, I really think learning to code is an absolutely *great* way to learn most of the things you mention.Learning how to write code that someone else can easily maintain and update the future is a pretty effective lesson in empathy. Try pair programming!On the other hand, why does learning to code have to teach those things necessarily? Does Algebra? Does Chemistry?

          1. Tadashiyara

            Good question! In an important sense, teaching robotics & coding engages students, they have fun, can explore, experiment, create, make mistakes, etc. Those learning experiences follow, because they are engaged. I am sure there effective ways to make chemistry or algebra engaging, but not the traditional classroom methods, unfortunately.

          2. sigmaalgebra

            I had four years of English literature in high school and two more in college. I can summarize all of it in just a few words:(1) It was all intended to be art as in “the communication, interpretation of human experience, emotion.”.(2) Really it was at best vicarious, escapist, fantasy, emotional experience entertainment — VEFEEE.(3) It was short on information: Even when they actually illustrated some really good points about life, they (A) didn’t explicitly explain their points and (B) nearly never gave any meaningful evidence. E.g., now that I know most of their lessons, I can go back and read that art, the plays, the corresponding movies, etc. and agree that in places they were making some really important points, but just from the literature itself, for my limited knowledge of life and people during those six years, there was no way I could learn anything solid from that stuff. E.g., NOW I know JUST what the heck George Bernard Shaw had in mind in Pygmalion, but I didn’t have a chance back during those six years.So, in English literature class, I was serious, trying to grow up and learn, and looking HARD for good INFORMATION. Well, in no very direct sense in literature, VEFEEE, is such there — it just isn’t there. At the time I was wishing, and saying, that if the authors had something to say, some information, then they should have written a well supported essay. But that’s not VEFEEE.There was a grand tragedy in those six years: Sure, we all know that it’s good to important to be able to write well. But the important part for 99% of the class is, say, essay writing, not belle lettre, VEFEEE, yet not even for one minute did those six years even try to teach me how to write an essay or anything with information. How to draw a graph??? What a JOKE! The teachers had serious numerical and geometric phobias!!! So, the school boards hope with all those classes in English the kids learn to write, say, essays, but the teachers are all all wound up over their favorite VEFEEE, especially Shaky Spear, and that’s NOT how to write an essay.My start in learning how to write was writing proofs in advanced pure math. I branched out from there. Those six years in English were a big waste; I’m pissed.For computing, yes, the documentation is important. That’s step 1. Step 2 is, between good documentation and good code, if have to pick just one, pick the good documentation; then the good code is obvious; pick the code, and the documentation is mud. Step 3, IMHO one of the biggest bottlenecks from the chips to the high end of tech is in one word, documentation. So, we have the hacker culture who in English class at best learned some Dickens but never learned essay writing. Net, the biggest hole in information technology is the low skills at essay writing. Want a good career in computing? Okay, bluntly, in high school, and maybe even in college, between good essay writing and good code writing, if have to pick just one, pick the essay writing. Then you will be able to write code others can understand. Or, with just the code, when it is written “Only God and the programmer understand it. Six months later, only God.”. More bluntly, the code alone doesn’t mean anything. For any meaning, need documentation. The documentation is close to essay writing, explaining ideas, passing out information. A lot of computer software defines a quite complicated system; understanding it is often crucial, and the code alone is nearly no help; what is needed to understand a complicated system is quite good essay writing. So, MUST write documentation.

          3. PhilipSugar

            Yes, yes, you make my point even better. Chemistry…..BTW I was the winner of the Philadelphia Chemistry award.Why do you need to know that???Algebra yes, to solve problems, and I love Physics because that is the way to learn calculus.Programming? Hell yes. My car is more of a computer than a car. I can park it at a place, Amazon can locate it to the dot, open the trunk and put in my packages.And we always pair our kids in Lego Robotic League.

      2. PhilipSugar

        I think it is like taking English in school (U.S. centrist I know)Will I write an important novel? Never.But is it a basic skill? Yes.

        1. Kirsten Lambertsen

          excellent analogy!

        2. LE

          I don’t think it is like taking english in school. People are not willing to accept into society someone who sounds and writes like a moron (although with people texting that is actually more acceptable) however they are quite willing to accept people who acknowledge they are stupid around computers. I run into this all the time and I always have. The ‘stupid computer user’ (man or woman) who laughs and says ‘I am not good with computers!’ and is proud of it.English: I will roll out the story regarding my ex brother in law back in the day. His father (the alarm company owner who made a great deal of money in that business; god bless residuals) said that his son (my bil) could drop out of college and work for the alarm company instead (which he now runs the father having died in the last few years). So when I heard that the father said he could drop out I commented ‘what if he has to write a letter?’. In other words if he didn’t go to college he wouldn’t have a general well balanced sense of how to communicate (or something like that).My ex father in law replies to me quite seriously ‘all the letters are already written!’. By that he meant they did send out letters, but they are all form letters and ‘they were already written’. Really. That happened. And he did drop out (and is doing quite well in the business now I might add.)That said the difference is also that written communication is definitely useful most of the time and you get to practice it and you get to read what others write (if you read) so it becomes something that you don’t forget. Programming is simply not like that in any way. It requires memorization, the languages change and most people don’t get practice once they end the course that they take unless it is their job. Better though than learning astronomy or many other subjects in school? Definitely.

      3. LE

        everyone needs to be able to read codeProgramming? I love it. It’s fun for me. I have made nearly all my money by being able to do a little bit of programming. I loved it from the start. It’s a total zone and uplifting in a way that nothing else can compete. [1] That said I don’t agree that anywhere close to ‘everyone needs to be able to read code’. Basic understanding, sure. Overview? Ok. But I would like an example of in a practical sense of how knowing how to read code is of help to the vast majority of people in their jobs. And I mean literally ‘read code’ (not just a general sense of how a computer operates etc.) And such that they will even remember what they have taken the time to learn.You are looking through the lens (as is Phil Sugar) of someone who is a life long learner of high capacity (MIT and Penn Grad) and able to consume mass quantities of information, process and enjoy it. (Not to mention live in NYC). Not in any way similar to everyday people who operate at a ‘just get by level’ of average or below mediocrity.[1] And I am not joking when I say ‘better than sex’.

        1. cavepainting

          I don’t know about reading code, but the vast majority of workers need to be tech savvy which is a spectrum ranging from using spreadsheets and docs to writing and deploying code.Tech is intimidating to many. The question is how can it be demystified so that people can get comfortable. Code is definitely one aspect of it, but there is also design, UX, prototyping to express ideas, learning to use SaaS tools to get work done, etc.Maybe we need to consider tech as a multi-dimensional subject (like science) with different dimensions applicable to different types of jobs, with some foundational layers applicable to all.

          1. LE

            The question is how can it be demystified so that people can get comfortable.Teaching people to code (the general public) would in theory have the opposite impact. Because you are force feeding something on people (that is difficult for most) that have no inherent base interest in the subject and further you are doing it in a way that will make them even less interested in learning. And you aren’t even allowing them to get started by ‘washing off the suds’ (the fun part).Tech is intimidating to many. The question is how can it be demystified so that people can get comfortable.Tech is intimidating because people’s brains differ. My wife and I can watch many shows together. But she has simply zero interest watching a show about the history of the 747 program which I find about as interesting as things get. The way her brain is (and it’s not because she is a woman either) and how she was raised and what she finds interesting she will just never get into the finer points of airplanes and/or the 747. Me? I would love to just see the gauges in the glass cockpit and sit there for some time. And I’ve always been like that. My brain immediately likes it. Just like it always liked tv control rooms. It just feels good to me visually. You know the “Monday Night Football” control room? Didn’t watch the game but tried to catch the intro to see that.My point is if tech is intimidating there is a reason behind that that goes way beyond exposure and intimidation. Look I took astronomy in college and it was perhaps the worst and least interesting thing I ever had to sit through. Just not for me and there is no way you would make me end up liking it.Lastly I think if you are an ‘information worker’ you are already tech saavy or you probably aren’t going to be doing that you will be doing something that doesn’t require being tech saavy. And as Phil and I have pointed out we need those people as well. We need the (to quote Caddy Shack) the ‘ditch diggers’ not everyone should be an attorney as the golf caddy was told..

          2. cavepainting

            yeah, all fair points. People and their interests differ but some level of tech exposure can benefit almost everyone. What that basic level constitutes might have to be determined.It is also a different question as it relates to kids (who might not have as many biases or mental blocks) vs. older workers.

          3. PhilipSugar

            See my comment above. Even more so for low tech workers. They all have to use and know computers.

          4. PhilipSugar

            Nope. Disagree.I am buying plants today from the greenhouse of Cecil County Technology School (they call it that not Vo-Tech)Plumbers, Mechanics, Carpenters, Gardeners, etc. You know what they all use????Computers and Software

        2. Adam Sher

          The zone many achieve sports is probably similar to how you’ve felt with some of your coding, particularly for those who compete at a high level.

    3. Kirsten Lambertsen

      Whether or not his vision of the future is accurate, this statement is just not true: “In reality, a few brilliant coders write the software the rest of us can draw on.”Coding is everywhere and in everything. Thousands of talented developers build it, maintain it and improve it every day. We wouldn’t have any of this that we’re communicating across right now if it was all in the hands of a few. And don’t even get me started on open source…

  4. Alex Murphy

    It is the equivalent of reading and writing.And in a world where AI and other new technological advances scares people to death, learning how to use the technology through programming is the key to embracing rather than rejecting the future.

  5. Mike Zamansky

    I’ve had very mixed feelings about Scratch and similar platforms over the years. I like them for the earlier grades but see them mis-applied all over the place in later grades.One thing Scratch in particular definitely got right is their online community.

  6. Sebastian Wain

    Is there any scholarship for that kindergarten? Just kidding.I have some personal experience about what @zamansky:disqus says about Scratch. At my family Scratch Jr. worked really well when kids were in kindergarten/preschool. Scratch Jr. is very limited but gave them an idea of very very basic algorithms. They used it mainly for scripting stories when they didn’t even read and write.Once they are are older (>= 8 years old) they can start programming with programming languages without too much syntax complexity (Python vs. C++).I also strongly recommend the Lego programming app where you use similar principles of programming by connecting visual elements but it also work in the real world with robots, cars, etc.

  7. sscottcto

    Let’s hope that arts and the humanities don’t get completely crowded out by our move toward coding. Without a balance of understanding humanity and expressions of creativity, these tools will do less good. I am a fan of both, but our STEM myopia and rush to coding being everywhere is at the expense of these foundational elements of child development.

    1. Sebastian Wain

      I strongly agree, there are initiatives to add the ‘A’ into STEM like STEM to STEAM. A person who is mainly interested in art, design, social sciences, etc should learn programming in a different way than someone who is oriented to engineering or exact sciences. The art and design aspect are also subjects that should be taught or experienced early on.

      1. kidmercury

        i think knowing about history and food (cooking, nutrition) are also quite important. so i suggest we transform STEAM into MAFTESH

        1. Sebastian Wain

          I agree, it is subjective where you put the balance between different topics.

      2. Donna Brewington White

        So true. I have kids who have aptitude for coding but do not enjoy math. But they do enjoy creating.Fred once raised an important point which later I began to better understand by observing my own kids: Teaching kids to make something (using code) goes a lot further than merely teaching them to code. (Hope I’m not misquoting — it’s been about 5 years.)

      3. sigmaalgebra

        > social sciences, etc should learn programming in a different way than someone who is oriented to engineering or exact sciences.I picked up a little in “social science”: My brother’s Ph.D. is in political science, and my wife’s, sociology.The leaders in those fields try to be “scientific”. Commonly they are better at understanding the principles of what “science” is than the STEM field people.And as is usually the case in research, the best work in those fields “mathematizes” the field. With high irony, the computer science (CS) people only in recent years, apparently heavily from L. Breiman’s work on classification and regression trees (CART — there are corresponding papers, a book, and software), discovered parts of multi-variate statistics, e.g., principal components analysis, regression analysis, and renamed them machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI). The CS people appear still to be short on understanding analysis of variance and statistical hypothesis testing.The social science people have been using such applied math heavily for 50+ years. E.g., there is the still important SPSS — Statistical Package for the Social Sciences. The naming was not a joke and was quite appropriate.And for the “science”, the leaders are careful to state general theories, make testable hypotheses, and to test the hypotheses with data and statistics. For measurements, they work hard on reliability and validity, harder than most STEM field people do.The “social sciences” are not all just socialism, social work, socializing, social diseases, and ice cream socials.Again, with high irony, much that the CS people and the people looking to apply ML/AI want, the social scientists have been the best equipped to deliver for 50+ years. Where? Using data, especially from the Internet, to analyze, characterize, and predict people, from large groups to individuals, for, of course, marketing and, in particular, ad targeting. E.g., uh, characterizations such as “the millennials “, “the X generation”, etc. are, if taken at all seriously, concepts from, no joke, social theory and, thus, need more detail as theory, measures (hopefully with reliability and validity), data, hypotheses, tests of the hypotheses, confirmation of predictive power, etc. Else “the millennials” could be as meaningless as phlogiston.Actually, the biggest user of statistics is medical research. Otherwise, at least in academics, the biggest users of statistics are the social sciences, and neither is in STEM.The computer science people are good at writing code and developing software to help in writing code. So, one big theme in computer science is to move to what comes before the code, that is, what code to write. There quickly CS got into database theory. Then they got into computational time complexity. Okay. But now CS is trying to get into, bluntly, it’s simple, applied math. In a sense, the CS people are forced: Their code is necessarily mathematically something. And for code that does what they want, e.g., ad targeting, they are noticing that applied math is a huge advantage. But the CS people are struggling with the math — linear algebra, probability, statistics, stochastic processes, etc. With high irony, commonly the social science students are better at the math than the CS students.So, for “learning programming”, the better research social scientists need software and programming for their math essentially as much as nearly all the STEM field people do.But, like from the Wizard of Oz, there is something the CS people have that the social scientists don’t: Hype! So maybe the Wonderful Wizard should bestow on the social scientists some hype???

    2. Matt A. Myers

      Health and self-care needs to be a bigger component as well, unfortunately the best way to learn that is role modelling and a flexible-supportive environment, so for those who need the most flexibility and the most support won’t efficiently get it.

    3. cavepainting

      Programming has been for too long a “Science” pursuit for the nerds. It has to be demystified and considered as much a part of the Arts as Science.Art is anything with a creative process where you use a toolkit (be it a brush, a violin, or scratch) to produce something.Programming is Art.Storytelling is Art.Playing Music is Art.Writing is Art.Playing Basketball is Art.Everyone has the potential to be a creator. But different things sing to different people.Education should be a search for what you are good at at, what you can do effortlessly, what you find the most joy in. It cannot be a factory farm.The more we can do to make available all creative pursuits to all kids irrespective of stereotypical technical or artistic inclinations, more we increase access to opportunity. More importantly, we help people find careers they are truly exceptional at.

      1. sigmaalgebra

        You have a relatively broad definition of art.The definition I was taught and like is — “The communication, interpretation of human experience, emotion.”.Violin playing is art when can use the instrument for such … experience, emotion. E.g.,…Could substitute a computer for the violin and still create art!!! Actually I want to rush to get my startup done so that I can do just that with a computer. Although I made some progress with violin, I’ll never be as good as Julia Fischer; nearly no violinist is. And, I want to write music for orchestra and not just violin. So, I want the scale of all 88 keys on a piano and not the much smaller scale of a violin (starts at the G just below middle C), tone colors, dynamic range, chords, and multiple lines of themes and harmony. E.g., communicate the emotions, experience of conflict and resolution, fear, confusion, resolution, compassion, e.g., “drama” but via music — not nearly a totally original idea! So, I’m sure appropriate software exists or I could write it, to use a computer to compose the music and also perform it and produce, say, a WAV file.A WAV file is fine; don’t need the expensive production values of a $100 million Hollywood movie. Indeed, long ago a kid was asked which he liked better, radio or TV. He said radio “Because the pictures are so much better.”. If the music is good, he was right then and still is.Sometimes now I listen to the first movement of the Van Cliburn performance of the MacDowell 2nd piano concerto: I doubt that even Spielberg with $100 million could put in a movie images that compare with the “… experience, emotion” of that music for me. I get reminded of the great variety of hours, good, bad, confused, straining, magical, etc. I had with the girl I knew when I was 15 and still can’t forget her. Sure, The Girl with the Flaxen Hair…is fine but has only about 2% of the MacDowell piece! Uh, she was 12 and 13; we communicated poorly; and actually we never even kissed. Still, MacDowell has it right!Neither a violin nor a computer is art; but both can be used to create art. IMHO much of the future of music, including “classical”, will be from computer performances — better in nuance, expression, precision, and, really, the art, than anything in the past.So, if there are some K-12 students interested in art, then maybe that can also mean they should be interested in computing including programming!

        1. cavepainting

          I see art as creating something unique and the process of learning and mastering all the building blocks to get to that point.Creativity is a human aspiration. It is not limited to the traditional definitions of Arts or Science.Surely, computers can create art too, but that is a different discussion point. A computer does not care if it is creating art or doing something repetitive. There is no aspiration or subjective experience.

  8. LE

    In the last year, over 200 million people have used Scratch to make something, share something, or learn something. There are roughly 2bn children on planet earth, so that means roughly 10% of our children used Scratch last year.Scratch is great. But I can’t believe that that “200 million people last year” is a correct number (or even close – besides the fact that not every user is a child as you pointed out) but more importantly this doesn’t seem to support that in any way and more or less defies practical sense:

  9. ErikSchwartz

    My youngest daughter is using code kingdoms to build minecraft mods. There are some very Scratch like aspects to it but it seems to have a better path forward into less visual, drag and drop programming models than scratch does.

  10. SteiNYSF

    My ten year old loves it

  11. sigmaalgebra

    Coding? Ah, let me think …!!!!So, we learn how to type simple text. So far nearly all the code is just simple text.Using our favorite means of typing, we start a file which is to have the code of our program. We type inNames and types of places to store dataAllocate/free storagedata input/outputIf-then-elseDo-WhileEvaluate arithmetic, logical, or string expressionscall/returncatch exceptional conditionsDid I leave out anything?What’s so tough about that?Well, there are a lot of tough things in software development, but the basic coding is next to dirt simple.