Coding Together

A new resource guide on how to launch Scratch Educator Meetups in your community

March 13, 2015
Two teachers at Scratch Ed teacher conference

Scratch, the free programming language launched in 2007 at MIT, is a simple, creative, and fun way for young students — and the rest of us — to get started with coding. Millions of people around the world use it, in more than 150 countries and more than 40 languages.

But Scratch is more than just a programming tool; it’s a community, with a vibrant online forum where Scratch users share their projects and exchange feedback. And educators have built their own online community — ScratchEd — to talk about how to use this powerful learning tool. It’s a space where teachers in all disciplines, with all levels of experience, can come together to share stories, exchange resources, ask questions, and connect.

Bringing Your Group Together

From the beginning, face-to-face interaction has also been a part of the ScratchEd ethos, says Assistant Professor Karen Brennan, ScratchEd’s chief convener. Since 2010, hundreds of educators have participated in free monthly Scratch Educator Meetups in Cambridge, Massachusetts. These meetups were initially organized and hosted by the ScratchEd team, but now the model is evolving and spreading to other communities. Meetups are now designed and run by educators themselves, customizable to any region, interest, or need. 

A new Scratch Educator Meetup Guide, just released by Brennan and her ScratchEd colleagues at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, can help you kick things off in your own community. The guide is full of advice about planning, promoting, and hosting a Scratch meetup — inspired, Brennan says, by the “amazing learning and sharing at the Cambridge meetups.”

Setting the Agenda

That Cambridge group, organized by Ingrid GustafsonJanet Dee, and Rosemary Slattery, gathers on the first Saturday of every month at the Kennedy-Longfellow School, with an agenda determined by participants at the start of each gathering. The organic, open-ended style of learning — modeled on EdCamp’s participatory approach, Brennan says — is part of what makes the meetups feel different from other professional development events. (Watch this video to get a sense of what a recent meetup looked like.)

Another difference: “the variety of jobs and interests” of the attendees, says organizer Janet Dee, a technology integration specialist at Reading Memorial High School in Reading, Massachusetts. “We have parents, public school teachers, private school teachers, afterschool teachers, museum teachers, grad students and interns, nonprofit outreach representatives, and administrators. It makes for a challenging but rewarding three hours of sharing and learning. Generally, [professional development] models are designed exclusively for a single population.”

The gatherings are a “warm and inviting and welcoming place for teachers to meet,” adds fellow organizer Ingrid Gustafson, the instructional technology specialist for grades 6-12 in the Cambridge Public Schools. “We’re on our own time, and there’s no hidden agenda and no bigger thing that everyone’s working toward. You’re there in charge of your own learning, and you can make your own choice about what you want to learn. You can even sit in the corner and work on your own stuff for three hours, and that’s OK too.”

The widening of the educator circle is just what Brennan and the ScratchEd facilitators hope for. “I am excited that we are laying more groundwork for people to network,” says Dee. “Teachers of computer science are often alone in their schools and districts and have no colleagues to share with. Our ScratchEd meetups help people create learning networks that they can use on a daily basis, which is so important.”

Eight Steps to a Successful ScratchEd Meetup

  • Find at least one other colleague in your area to help launch your meetup and share facilitating duties.
  • Find funding (if you need it). Meetups should be free to participants, but if there are expenses (supplies, food, and more food!), put on your fundraiser cap: See if administrators can allot professional development resources; partner with a local university or organization; ask a local restaurant to donate food. You can also apply for a Getting Started Grant from the ScratchEd team at HGSE.
  • Pick the right venue, one with several rooms or a room that can be divided into larger and smaller areas. Make sure there is (free) WiFi, tables where people can sit and talk or use laptops; and power sources and extension cords.
  • Promote widely. Create an online event page and email the link around. Make flyers. Make an announcement at your professional development events. Post your meetup in the ScratchEd discussion forum.
  • Aim for a diverse crowd. Try to reach teachers in schools, museums, or libraries; people new to Scratch and veterans; and teachers at all grade levels.
  • The start of the meetup is critical to its success. Facilitate two quick “go-arounds,” where participants (seated in a circle) talk about their interests.
  • Meetup activities are designed by participants. This makes things exciting — and a bit chaotic. The meetup guide provides advice on building an agenda, but there is no “right” way to do it. The goal is to engage participants as co-designers in creating an event that will be meaningful for all. Start by asking participants, What do you want to get out of today’s meetup?
  • Set aside time for reflection at the end. Powerful learning happens during those periods.

Additional Resources

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