Product Review of PBS KIDS ScratchJr
PBS KIDS ScratchJr is a collaboration between PBS Kids and MIT, the developer of the Scratch programming language, which was designed to help kids express themselves through code. The story-making tool features PBS characters from Wild Kratts, Peg + Cat, Nature Cat, and WordGirl along with blocks of code that kids use to direct the characters’ actions.
Kids can start with a blank screen or choose a story starter. From the blank screen, they choose characters or create their own, select a backdrop or create their own, and then click together commands to direct each character to jump, move, turn, look, and more. They can record custom sounds, too, to make their characters speak. The story starters have characters and backgrounds chosen along with preset commands. Kids can make changes they want to that code to customize it, or they can add more characters. Projects are automatically saved.
Teachers of young elementary school-age kids will find the programming game engaging for their learners who are the typical audience for the shows featured, but it will serve mostly as an introduction to the clicking the blocks of code together rather than much instruction for the logic of programming. Kids can create stories around the scenes and with the characters, directing them with the commands.
Favorite characters from familiar kids’ shows work alongside kid-friendly block-programming language to introduce kids to coding. Kids will easily pick up on how to use the blocks to direct the characters, and the backdrops and story starters give them a jump start in creating their own programs. The options for creating custom scenes and characters extend the fun and educational opportunities beyond PBS Kids characters.
The interface is a bit busier than other block-programming apps, so it may be overwhelming to some kids to be faced with so many choices of characters and scenes. Parent may want to guide kids to focus on the code blocks rather than simply moving characters with their fingers, which is possible (and fun) but does not reinforce learning to code.
Overall User Consensus About the App
Character choices and backgrounds appeal to a wide range of interests. Peg + Cat, Word Girl, and the Wild Kratts crews mix and mingle in the kid-created programs.
Curriculum and Instruction
Play is open-ended with no set missions or objectives, so kids won’t get the benefit of trying, failing, and trying again. This is more of an introduction to what can be done with code, rather than an exploration of the language and logic.
A video tutorial and in-app how-to images demonstrate features, with separate tutorials for the interface, paint editor, and block programming. Starter projects under the lightbulb tab let kids run programs before adapting or writing their own.