Redefining A Social Studies Unit With Scratch


The redefinition journey of the SCH Academy Lower School continues, even as one of the final snowfalls of the season blankets Philadelphia. New Media Specialist Karen Kolkka and I meet with second grade girls’ teachers Mary Ann Domanska and Karen Pizer to discuss potential 21st century projects, based on existing learning goals and desired student outcomes. Clear to all of us, from this meeting’s focus as well as that of others with Lower School faculty, is the use of technology as a driving force toward increasing student creativity, excitement, and learning. Simultaneously, its use continues to complement the curriculum the teachers have been developing and instructing for years.

Within minutes of our meeting, we excitedly begin to develop the steps needed to integrate Scratch, MIT’s educational programming language and multimedia authoring tool, into an existing 2nd grade project.  Even as I leave the meeting, plans for implementation are underway. As Mary Ann Domanska wrote afterwards,  “This special project is an extension of our Community Social Studies unit.  The purpose is to enable teams of girls to work together to design the layout of their neighborhoods based on specific rules.”

For several years, resident Scratch expert Karen Kolkka has been instrumental in student development of important problem solving, critical thinking, and digital literacy skills that can be applied both inside and outside of the digital world.  She describes the project below:

Second grade teaches a unit on Community. One component of the unit asks students to assess the needs of a community’s neighborhood and plan a grid that makes use of the space to accommodate the various needs. The planned grid is composed of 4 color blocks. They chose green for lawn/yard, brown for business/service, yellow for parks/ green space, and black for streets. The students worked as teams of four to create the initial model using Unifix cubes.

Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 9.08.34 AM

The image on the right shows the Scratch template each team of students used to recreate the neighborhood model. Using this template to layout the grid gives students an introduction to Scratch and an idea of how scripts can be utilized to build differing kinds of projects. Several students expressed interest in the platform and continued exploring after the lesson was completed. Here is a screenshot of one completed neighborhood grid and a photo of others hanging in the classroom! These small scale maps will eventually be converted to a 32” x 32” 3D models of the villages the students design.


Within days, students were at work with Scratch, Karen K, Mary Ann and Karen teaching Scratch skills and enabling the students to stretch both their imaginative thinking and their “homegrown” knowledge of neighborhood. Three of Karen Pizer’s second grade students—Marley Einheber, Anabella Castellanos, and Elizabeth Pearcy, talk about their experience in the brief video below:

Take a look at a photo gallery shared by Mary Ann Domanska of her students in action.  Also, stay tuned as we have plans to team up again to redefine a project focusing on Japanese culture!

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