Ten Years of Scratch

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Ten years ago, I was teaching a multimedia graduate class in which we were looking at different multimedia environments that could be used to develop educational content.  The course culminated with an Adobe Flash project, but we explored other applications along the way.

One of those applications was Scratch and I wrote about it back then.  At the time, Scratch was a program that was downloaded and used offline.  Finished projects could be uploaded to the web site for sharing.  You could also download projects from the website and remix them using the desktop application.  About four years ago, the Scratch programming environment went online.  Since that time you can do all your coding using only a browser at https://scratch.mit.edu.

There are several things about Scratch that make it an excellent place to learn to code.  One of the most important is the price.  Scratch is completely free.  There is no required software installation because everything is done in a browser.  If you can get online, you have full access to all the features in Scratch.  If you do not have Internet access, you can still download the application and do the same activities offline.  Anything created with the application can be uploaded to the website when you do get online.

Students can be successful with Scratch right away.  Scratch has a section called tips with tutorials and PDF guides.  There are thousands of Scratch tutorials on YouTube.  A student can start with a guide that introduces the programming environment, shows how to create content and share that work with others online.  Students can create and publish simple projects in one class period.  Last year, my wife and I worked with a group of elementary students at her school.  We developed an activity where participants created a game.  It was a simple game where the player moves an object along a path to a “treasure” at the end of the path.  Touching the treasure wins the game.  By adding a timer, it became a game where users could compete for the best time.  We had a computer lab full of kids and they created their own game in one hour.  It was a simple project with detailed instructions, but every student who wanted to complete it did so.  Some of the excited kids came back the next day and told my wife they had worked on their game at home and added extra features.

The ability to share projects with other people is one of the most powerful features of Scratch.  This has two advantages.  A student can make a project with a specific target audience and then share that project with that audience.  For instance, a student can make a birthday card for grandma and then send grandma the link.  All grandma needs is a browser and she can see the card and hear her granddaughter talking.  More importantly, since all projects are “open” to all users, a student can look at all the code from any project to learn how specific programming problems can be solved.  A student can take any existing project and “remix” it to make something new.  Consider this Origami project.  It has been remixed more than 3000 times. If you look at the remixtree, you will see that the Origami project is actually a remix of another project.

Finally, Scratch is powerful.  You can program anything from a game of checkers to a fully functional flight simulator.  The graphics editor has both bitmap and vector editing capabilities.  If you want to import graphics from an advanced program like Illustrator or Photoshop, you can do that too.  You can also generate graphics as part of the programming, as in this SpiroGraph project.

Each year, we participate in the Hour of Code project.  Some of our students program with Scratch during the hour of code using activities shared on the site.  This year, some of our high school students are creating activities in Scratch that can be used by younger students during the hour of code.  A project like this permits us to use Scratch at every level.  Older students create Scratch modules that younger students can use to make new Scratch projects.

If you have an idea for a project, you can probably find something similar to use as a starting point.  I found this Asteroids game and used some of the spaceship navigational controls in my own version of the game.  I called it Ionoids.  Different ions are randomly generated and you must “shoot” them with the proper ionic charge to destroy them.  All of the graphics were created in Scratch.  I shared it with students who tested it and made suggestions on improvements.  The finished product is used by the science teachers as a fun way to help the students memorize the common charges for ions.  Scratch gave me an environment that I could use to quickly create this project.  I don’t think I could have done it without Scratch.

Now if you Google “ionoids”, my project is the first thing you see.

All my projects are here.



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PowerPoint the new Microsoft Video Editor

A long time ago on an operating system far from Windows 10, there was a video editor called Movie Maker.  At some point, someone decided a video editor was too much for most people to handle, and it was removed from Windows.  You could add it back, if you were ambitious, but most people did not.  Movie Maker is no longer supported by Microsoft.  Now there is no built-in video editor on a new Windows computer.  There is suppose to be something called Story Remix in Windows 10, but at this point, it is more difficult to acquire than Movie Maker ever was.

Yesterday I needed to make a quick video.  I was given two videos.  Each video was about six minutes long.  I needed to chop out two minutes from the middle of each video and my computer had no video editing software.  All my computers have PowerPoint and it turns out, that was all I needed.

I opened a new presentation in PowerPoint and made three blank slides with black backgrounds.  The first slide would be my introductory slide and the next two slides would each contain a two minute video.  By making the background black, I eliminated any bright edges that might happen if my imported video did not completely fill the slide.


I typed Movie Title into the first slide and went to the second slide to insert the first video.


From the Insert menu I clicked the Video button and added video from my PC.


PowerPoint shows the first frame of the video in the slide, but since this video starts with a black screen, there is no preview on slide two.


In the Playback tab, select “Automatically” as the Start option.  The difficult step in the entire process is editing the video so that the only part I want remains.  To edit the timeline of the video, click the Trim Video icon.


This will pop up a video player with trim tools.

The green slider is positioned at the beginning of the clip and the red slider is moved to the end of the clip.  Fine adjustments can be made in the Start Time and End Time boxes.  Use the play button to preview the new trimmed video.  When everything plays perfect, click OK.

Now the second slide shows the trimmed version of the video.


On slide three, I repeated the Insert process for the second video and trimmed it.

The segment I needed from the second video is closer to the middle of the full video.  Notice the location of the green and red sliders.


When the second video was trimmed, the video editing portion of the project was complete.


Since this is PowerPoint, I can easily add text and pictures to my first slide to introduce the videos that followed.


There is one last step before saving this file as a video.  Go through each non-video slide and set a playback time.  The first slide is not a video slide, so the auto-advance time was adjusted to 5 seconds.

The auto-advance times for slides with videos will automatically match the play duration of the video.


The final step is saving the PowerPoint as a video. Click File – Save As and select MP4 from the dropdown box.


Done – https://youtu.be/gkhIe-RosRw


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Google Drive File Stream is Magical

In September, Google announced Google Drive App will no longer be supported starting December 11, 2017.  Two different applications are replacing the Google Drive App.  Those apps are “Backup and Sync” and Google Drive File Stream.

Backup and Sync is designed to meet the needs of consumer users.  It is essentially the same application as the old Google Drive App with the handy addition of backing up files from your Windows operating system structure.  Specifically, Desktop, Documents and Pictures are built-in options in the preferences.  In addition, other folders can be arbitrarily selected for backup.  Of course, you have to have room available in your Google Drive to handle the files selected.

Google Drive File Stream is the new enterprise solution for synchronizing your Google Drive with the files on your computer.  This application does a few special things.  First, it will sync your Team Drives to your local computer.  When Google Drive File stream is installed, a G: drive is mapped to your computer with 1EB of space.  That’s one Exabyte which is equal to one million terabytes.  Schools are given unlimited Google Drive storage.  Apparently that equals 1EB.

Here is where the magical part happens.  When you sync the files to your hard drive, the application treats this network drive as a “live” Internet storage drive.  Anything copied to the G: drive is automatically copied to the cloud and then the space on your hard drive is recovered.

If you read over that too quickly, let me say it again.  Files on your G: drive use no space on your hard drive to store your synced Google Drive files.  Currently, I have 300 gigabytes of files in my Google Drive.  When I sync all of them on my local hard drive, no noticeable hard drive space is consumed.  That’s magic.

I have a computer with only 3 gigabytes of space available.  I have a G: drive with 300 gigabytes of data.  That’s one hundred times as much space as I have available on my hard drive.  After installing the Google Drive File Stream application and syncing my Google Drive, all 3 gigabytes of my local hard drive are still available.  Yet, I have access to all my Google Drive files from my local hard drive.  I can double-click a PowerPoint file and it opens in PowerPoint.  I can double-click a movie file and it opens in my video player.  When I open a file from my G: drive, it is instantly downloaded and opened in the associated application.  When the file is closed, the space is recovered on my local hard drive.

The magic only works when I have an Internet connection.  The G: drive is not available when I am offline, unless I choose to make specific files or directories available offline.

The way Backup and Sync handles local files is different than Google Drive File Stream.  Backup and Sync downloads all of your Google Drive files and stores them on your local hard drive.  Each gigabyte of Google Drive requires a gigabyte of local hard drive to sync it.  Because of this, syncing is much slower with Backup and Sync.  If you have hundreds of gigabytes of Google Drive files, the syncing process can take many hours, possibly several days if your connection is slow.

Drive File Sync copies no files to your hard drive.  It only copies virtual links to your computer.  These virtual links are used to open your files from Google Drive as you need them.  As a result, syncing a large Google Drive with Drive File Stream takes only a few minutes.

The difference is critical in a school environment.  In a lab, every student can now run Google Drive File Stream, because no space will be used on the hard drive to sync student files.  When a student logs into a lab computer with Google Drive File Stream, all the Google Drive files are synced, but no space is used on the local hard drive.

We have a one-to-one program and do not have to worry about all the students using a common set of lab computers.  Google Drive File Stream still benefits us.  With the old Google Drive App, on the first day of school every student synced all files to the local hard drive.  That meant every student downloaded all the files from Google Drive and saved them locally.  Hundreds of students syncing all their files was a bandwidth crunch.  For the first few days of school, the network was saturated with Google Drive App files being synced.  Now that Google Drive File Stream is available, there will be no noticeable bandwidth increase when all students sync their files.

What if you need files when you are offline?  Google Drive File Stream will make selected files and folders available when you are offline.  Simply right-click the file or folder you wish to be available offline and select Available Offline.  Selected files will always be saved on the local hard drive and syncing will work the same way as the Backup and Sync application works.

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Drag Racer (Scratch)

Drag Racer in Scratch

Scratch is an amazing coding environment for beginner programmers.  Here is an easy to play two-player drag racing game.  Each player uses only two keys.  One key accelerates the car.  The second key shifts to a higher gear.  Since there is no steering involved, the driver focuses on getting the tachometer as close to the red without touching it.   Shifting while in the yellow range will produce the maximum power and the highest speed.

Find someone to race and have fun!


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Slot Car Racing

This Scratch game is a throwback to the 1960s.


It’s a simple two player game.  One player uses the A key to accelerate.  The other player uses the L key.  Don’t go too fast or you will fly off the track.

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