In today’s dynamic environment, one thing remains the same: Children need an education. As parents and educators grapple with how to educate children in these challenging new times, their need for creative, digital and readily available resources grows. Luckily, our education partners, the Scratch Foundation—an initiative of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab that helps young people learn how to think creatively, reason systematically and work collaboratively—and Science Buddies—an organization that inspires and educates students of all ages with hands-on STEM explorations that reflect their unique interests —offer many resources that serve as good starting points for parents and educators who want to enable children to learn more about science and technology in easily accessible formats.
EPAM Education Partners Make Learning at Home Easier
Before reviewing the library of available resources, let’s take a step back and look more closely at how we motivate kids to learn in a remote environment. Kids learn best when they are having fun. According to NAEYC, “play helps to nurture imagination and give a child a sense of adventure. Through this, they can learn essential skills such as problem solving, working with others, sharing and much more. In turn, this helps them develop the ability to concentrate.”
“The reality is that learning science is messy – and it doesn't always go as planned especially in a home setting where there may be varied age groups working together,” says Tina Lanese, Senior Vice President, Science Buddies. “While there may be a suggested way of doing a project, that doesn't mean it has to be done that way. If it doesn't go right and there are mistakes, that's OK. Making mistakes is part of learning.” Lanese points to her colleague, Science Buddies Vice President of STEM Education Sandra Slutz’s blog chronicling the highs and lows of her children’s experience with remote learning as an example.
At Scratch, they share a similar sentiment by living by the four Ps of creative learning – projects, passion, peers and play. “There is nothing more important than giving children the space to think and act creatively—especially now,” says Scratch founder and Director of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab Mitchell Resnick. “That is key for them to thrive and be happy in tomorrow’s society.”
One easy way kids can get in on the fun is with common household items. In an experiment designed for 6th to 8th graders, students can turn milk into plastic. There’s more than 175 similar activities on the Science Buddies’ website. And even if kids don’t try any of the experiments and simply opt to watch the videos instead, they’re still learning, Lanese assures.
Scratch similarly aims to make learning how to code as accessible as possible for all children. Scratch is available on laptops, Android tablets, iPads and most mobile devices. For those with limited or no internet access, the downloadable Scratch app allows users to create and save projects with or without an internet connection.
“The Scratch team is committed more than ever to our mission of ensuring that their platform is available for free, to everyone, so that kids around the world can continue to express their ideas through coding,” says Outreach Manager, Jacy Edelman.
Through their program #ScratchAtHome, the group supports educators teaching Scratch remotely, including trainers for EPAM’s own education program eKids – which supports more than 4,500 young children ages 8 to 12 in exploring and developing software engineering skills and proficiencies to pursue lifelong learning. They also have ideas for creative playtime for kids. During their weekly Create-Alongs, typically held on Thursdays at 1 p.m. ET, young people can engage with peers and teachers via YouTube livestream. They can also submit questions for the hosts to answer during the sessions.
While most Scratch activities are geared toward 8 to 16-year-olds, 5 to 7-year-olds can work on their coding literacy with Scratch Jr., an introductory programming language that enables young children to create their own interactive stories and games.
One activity that students of any age can use Scratch for is EPAM’s Paws to Wash, a DIY handwashing project that emphasizes proper handwashing techniques, gives kids a fun project to do and teaches electronics and prototyping skills.
And for those students who are interested in learning even more about the science behind handwashing and how it helps to prevent COVID-19, there’s an EPAM-sponsored Science Buddies project that shows just how vital this simple practice is. In addition to washing your hands, Science Buddies also created a series of resources for children who want to learn more about the virus.
While many children may be out of school until the next academic year, learning doesn’t have to stop. In May, children, educators and parents are invited to participate in Scratch Month. The event—which was originally a one-day, in-person event—will now be virtual, allowing the group to reach a larger community. The goal is to make it as interactive as possible by introducing weekly themes and studios designed to spark project ideas and learning through creative coding at home. The themes will offer a variety of topics to engage many interests, styles and abilities.
If you’ve tried any of these resources or have suggestions for new learning outlets, our partners want to hear from you! To share with Scratch what would be most helpful to you, fill out this form. And if you have a passion for science, consider volunteering your time by offering to be an expert that kids, parents and educators can turn to when they’re stuck on an assignment.