Problem Solving and Critical Thinking:

21st Century Skills Addressed Using Scratch from MIT

Students across the world are using computers to develop a host of twenty-first century skills. One of the tools being deployed in classrooms and in after school computer clubs is Scratch, from the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Scratch Cat

Specifically, Scratch is a media creation tool which allows students to easily create animations, stories, and interactive games. At its core, Scratch is a programming environment which sidesteps learning the syntax required in programming by using Lego-like blocks. This constructionist approach in learning supports critical thinking and problem solving through the creative process when students create, enhance, or troubleshoot their projects.

Scratch is learning through
Design, Interests, Collaboration, & Reflection

It was Dr. Seymour Papert, in the 1960s and 70s when he was co-developing the LOGO programming language, who saw the potential for using technology to develop essential skills with students. The computer could become the laboratory for learning, where the economy for creation and problem solving was ideal compared to what was possible in the real world. In this way, Scratch today is a simulation platform for developing key twenty-first century skills because it supports computer programming.

Scratch Cat

To teach problem solving, we need to give kids authentic problems to solve that reach across multiple school subjects or disciplines. And if the problems aren't authentic, they ought to be simulations of real problems. Critical thinking requires that we focus on details, presenting students with open-ended problems that go beyond applying cookie-cutter solutions.

Scratch is free and is available for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. The Scratch website supports sharing of projects which can be downloaded by learners in a social space like YouTube. Students use the website to communicate with other Scratchers, to learn new techniques, and to remix projects, developing skills in collaboration and communication. Our experience in Goochland has been that Scratch supports the development of a wide variety of twenty-first century skills, starting in grade 3 through high school, including digital citizenship.

Professor Resnick with Virginia Educators

Goochland educators John Hendron and Bea Cantor attended the 2010 Scratch Conference at MIT in August, along with Dr. Manorama Talaiver and Rebecca Bowen from Longwood University’s ITTIP. Pictured center is Professor Mitchel Resnick, the creator of Scratch. Watch a video podcast about our experiences at MIT.

Sample Projects

For each of the sample projects below, click on the thumbnail image to download a .zip file containing the PDF instructions along with one or more Scratch project files (version 1.4 or later)!

Cat Race Thumbnail Image

In the Cat Race, we learn about random numbers and apply what we know about the Cartesian plane. I often use the cat race, built from the beginning, as a way to illustrate Scratch in training scenarios with teachers. Here, we take a pre-built version of the cat race to target late-elementary, early-middle school math and also to introduce the potential of Scratch.


Remember Madlibs? This Scratch project focuses on middle and high school English skills. Students help complete a Madlibs activity, and then can change the story our host, Scratch the cat, tells after the viewer supplies him with vocabulary.

Car and Pothole

The Car and the Pothole This Scratch project starts a game where a player's goal is to avoid hitting the pothole on the road. We show you how to build a simple animation into the start of a game, integrating the application of 5th grade mathematics.

Kaleidoscope Math

Kaleidoscope Math Interactive Scratch projects are fun! In this one, we focus again on math, and specifically on dividing the 360 degrees of a circle into equal parts.

Chris Columbus

Elementary social studies is fun in Scratch! In this project, we tell the story of Christopher Columbus' first voyage to the new world, applying what we've learned. In addition to creating games, Scratch is great for telling stories.

Scratch Piano

Scratch Piano is an intermediate project where you'll apply your knowledge of music by creating a working piano keyboard!

More Resources

Scratch can be enhanced using PICO boards and Lego WeDo.

Interested in persuing Scratch in your school? Join us on Saturday, May 21, 2011, for another Scratch Day. Students from around the world will be Scratching—and learning—in events across the globe. You can also learn more about Scratch at EdTech 2011, WCVE's local technology conference on February 2-3, 2011 in Ashland, VA.