Scratch teaches lots of important programming concepts without forcing you to type reams of code
Scratch is a great way to learn programming and logic quickly without having to wade through a lot of boring code before anything interesting happens. Even so it can still be used to create some fairly sophisticated programs.
Installation is simple and there are no requirements for other software to be present first.
It is worth spending some time on the Scratch website as it is possible to share programming projects. There are over two million projects to browse through and review to see how they work.
The manual is pretty good as well with a good reference card that explains all of the different commands and a very good getting started guide.
There is a single window with all the different programming tools as well as the output window in one place.
Programs in Scratch control characters in the main window known as sprites. This is a programming term for an image on the screen that is not created by the program. There is a wide range of sprite to choose from including cats, dragons, unicorns and fish. There are also people and objects to include in projects.
If you're lacking in inspiration there is a surprise me button that selects a sprite at random.
Sprites can have more than one costume, which is used to create basic animation, as well as sounds that can be used in the program.
A Paint Editor can be used to create your own sprites or to edit images from your computer.
Rather than forcing you to type in commands in long lines of text, programs are created by combining different icons. They are shaped like jigsaw pieces. This is not by accident and makes creating programs very intuitive.
Commands are event based, that is to say that they happen when a particular condition is met. This can be when a program is started, a key is pressed or when a character is clicked.
Sprites can talk to each by broadcasting messages. A sprite is set to broadcast a message on a particular event. Other sprites can be set to react to the message. For example, in the screen shot above, the speech bubbles of the bottom two characters appear when the dragon is clicked because it broadcasts a message.
It is even possible to edit programs on the fly and see the changes happen immediately.
It's inevitable that we should compare Scratch to Kodu, a very similar program from Microsoft. Kodu works in 3D and can share projects with an Xbox. We're sure that budding programmers of all ages would get a kick from seeing their game on an Xbox (we would certainly) but the 3D interface makes it more complicated and demanding on hardware.
Scratch will run on a Raspberry Pi so it'll run on just about any PC capable of running Windows. The Mac and Linux versions can be downloaded here.
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