Using Scratch to Teach Algebra and Computer Science Basics

This is what the Scratch Language looks like. Each of those groups of blocks is a script.

When we had to go to remote schooling due to COVID-19, the expectations for what we would be able to teach were dramatically scaled back. All the stuff I had been doing in person was not going to work in a virtual setting. I had to let go of my expectations for how the year would go, and try to look at this new development in a different light. I had to think not about what we were not going to be able to cover in the remaining time, but about what opportunities this new set-up would provide us. So I asked myself:

What have I always wanted to teach, but never “had time for” in the course of a normal, busy school year?

Programming, that’s what.

I used the program linked above to teach my students about variables. Not just the ones we use in Algebra where you discover their hidden secrets through an eldritch process of logical steps. I mean, we did those as well, obviously. But I wanted them to experience the other kind, that can be used to store data, act as a counter, and help control flow with boolean checks.

We also went over how to create conditional statements. If we set a variable to increment, then we can use an if-else statement (Sometimes nested) to have our sprites carry out different actions under different conditions.

At any rate, this project was one of my pre-algebra students’ favorites. They came up with such funny and creative projects, and in addition to coding these, they also had to practice creating and solving their own algebra equations.

I first got into scratch for the Harvard intro to computer science course on edX. I will link the project I did for that class in the sidebar Scratch menu.


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