Serif in Education

Where DrawPlus and Scratch meet to teach programming!

Over the Easter break, we were fortunate enough to spend some time talking to Seamus O’Neill, who has discovered a creative way that teachers can combine Serif products with the free programming tool SCRATCH to teach pupils how to code.

Seamus is based in Ireland, and is a former primary teacher and the co-author of Mathemagic, the popular maths textbook used in primary schools. He is a computer programmer and he tutors teachers in Scratch at Navan Education Centre, Co. Meath. Seamus produced ‘SCRATCH from Scratch’ – an easy way to start learning the exciting programming language, SCRATCH (www.scratchfromscratch.com). Seamus is also the founder of CoderDojo Navan.

Seamus is currently producing a book and teaching resources to integrate technology and programming within the school Maths and Irish language curricula.

It was a coincidence, that Seamus discovered that the features of DrawPlus support the recently released version of Scratch 2.0 from www.scratch.mit.edu. Seamus has been a user of PagePlus and DrawPlus for almost ten years, and when he began to teach Scratch, began to explore the use of Quick Shapes in DrawPlus. By using the Export SVG images facility, drawings can be directly imported into Scratch.

Seamus says: “Scratch and programming has a lot to offer the modern teacher. In Scratch, we have what we call Sprites. A sprite might be a dot, for example, and children will programme the dot to make a square, by creating an algorithm (go forwards five steps, then turn 90 degrees, etc). Programming encourages children to think logically and solve problems.

Let’s take Maths as an example. The teaching of Maths often results in children learning maths facts without having established the basis behind them. Children aren’t often asked to think logically. For example, it is one thing to know how to calculate 30 + 70. It is another to understand that if one truck has 30 logs, another has 70 logs and the owner of the trucks sells 50 logs in all, how many logs are left?

Within Scratch, Maths can be explored in a creative way. For example, teachers can programme the computer to deliver a random number between 1 and 10, add 6 to it, and if the result is 11, pupils should be able to tell the original number. Then, the teacher can teach pupils how to do this themselves, and ask them to try it out on each other in Scratch! This can be done across all Key Stages, both Primary and Secondary.

So, what is the use of Serif DrawPlus in Scratch? And how can we become even more creative by aligning the two?

Scratch has been around for over 5 years, but until 6 months ago Scratch and Serif had very little in common. After Scratch had been established, it was made cloud based; then a different form of images was introduced; and now two types of images can be used. In order to use Scratch, you need little images which can be programmed to move, change, etc.

This is where DrawPlus comes in. Now, teachers can ask pupils to draw things in DrawPlus (say, a car, or a clock like in the example below). With a clock they can move the little hands around, then save each image as a vector file and transport the images into Scratch. With DrawPlus, they can set up a custom page that is the exact size of the Scratch page. They can lay everything out, and create a nice background.

I swoon over DrawPlus – there is very little in the way of alternatives. The picture gallery full of pre-made pictures that can be transported into Scratch provides some really creative options for pupils. It is just so easy for children (even young children) to use. The Quick Shapes in particular are a fascinating element to the software – pupils can practice coding with flowers, bees and more. Creativity isn’t often associated with programming, but by using DrawPlus with Scratch, children can now be imaginative and inventive. There is more to programming than the logic and language. It is also about the end project and making sure it is compelling and if appropriate eye catching – that is where the requirement for creative tools comes in.

For 15 years I was a European educator – the school I worked at was involved in a programme that linked schools in different areas together. Within this, I gave courses toUKteachers, and it was interesting to see that teachers didn’t want to be asked to teach something they didn’t know how to do.

This is a challenge that UK teachers are currently facing with the Computing curriculum, but users of DrawPlus mustn’t be alarmed – by learning just a few easy steps, they can be programming with their pupils in no time!

I run a CoderDojo in Navan, and we spend time with design in our Dojo, encouraging children to come up with their own creative drawings and designs in DrawPlus. In 2013 I uploaded a few examples for our CoderDojo children – see the DrawPlus ‘influence’ within Scratch here:

(1) www.scratch.mit.edu/projects/13610907

(2) www.scratch.mit.edu/projects/13940272

(3) www.scratch.mit.edu/projects/14056737