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Book Review: Super Scratch Programming Adventure! 74

MassDosage writes "I first heard about the Scratch programming language a few years ago and the idea of a simple language designed to teach kids to program in a fun, new way has always appealed to me. For those of you who don't know, Scratch was developed by the wonderfully named "Lifelong Kindergarten Group" at the MIT Media Lab. It's a programming language that allows programs to be built by dragging, dropping, configuring and combining various blocks that represent common coding concepts such as if/else statements and while loops. Scratch also provides tools for doing simple animation, playing audio and controlling sprites. The idea behind it is to make programming simple, fun and accessible to first time programmers so they can understand the key concepts without first needing to learn complex syntax which can come later when they move on from Scratch to other languages. It has been very successful and there are literally millions of Scratch programs freely available from the Scratch website and many others." Read below for the rest of Mass Dosage's review.
Super Scratch Programming Adventure!: Learn to Program By Making Cool Games
author The LEAD Project
pages 160
publisher The LEAD Project
rating 7/10
reviewer Mass Dosage
ISBN 978-1-59327-409-2
summary Learn to Program By Making Cool Games
The Super Scratch Programming Adventure book has recently been translated from the Chinese original and is in keeping with the Scratch ethos of bringing programming to a new generation of programmers. It is hard to tell what the age group for this book is as children have such varied technical skills but I would say it's best for relatively computer savvy youngsters who know the basics of computing and are comfortable with a mouse and keyboard and know how to drag, drop, open, save, cut, paste etc. It should be suitable for ages from 8 up to young teenagers but even those a bit older looking to learn programming could find it useful while younger children might also be able to get something out of it if guided by someone older.

The book starts of with a bit of background and points the reader to where they can freely download and install the Scratch application which is used to create Scratch programs. This is available for Windows, Mac and Linux and was a breeze to install on Ubuntu Linux. All programming is done via a GUI to avoid having to deal with typos and syntax errors. The Scratch environment is fairly simple and intuitive and easy to get started with. A downloadable zip file accompanies the book and contains skeleton programs with sound and images that are used for creating applications as well as fully complete programs which can be used for reference if you get stuck creating your own versions. The zip file also contains a "Getting started with Scratch" guide that is a very useful prelude to the book if you've never used Scratch before and covers the main concepts and tools that are used in the book itself. It is important to note that this book is not a manual for Scratch and doesn't provide exhaustive coverage of what Scratch can do or how to use all of its features. Super Scratch Programming Adventure takes a "learn by doing" approach by guiding you through the creation of a few programs and leaves you to figure the rest out yourself. Given the target audience this makes a lot of sense — most youngsters would much rather build some cool applications right away than wade through lots of dry documentation first.

Super Scratch Programming Adventure is divided into various "stages" (computer game speak for "chapters") that are linked by a colorful cartoon adventure story. Each stage guides the reader through creating a computer game from... err... scratch and teaches them some fundamental concepts along the way. Later stages build on lessons learnt earlier so they should be read in order and the book steers one towards this with the cartoon linking what you do in the various stages together as you build games which in turn become part of the story. The early stages start off showing how to use sprites and move them around and how to use the palette to build up programs and attach behaviors to things. Later stages cover user input, broadcasting and reacting to events, flow control, collision detection, variables, animation and audio with each stage harder than the previous one right up until the final stage which involves creating a fighting game with numerous sprites and interactions between them and the user. I found all the games fun to build and use and could definitely see the distinct lessons each one was designed to teach.

The learning curve is a bit higher than I expected and there is little hand holding, at some points you just have to look at the included code blocks and figure out yourself how to build them up. It's not always easy and readers will need to be fairly computer literate and able and willing to figure a fair amount out on their own but ultimately this is probably a good thing as explaining everything in minute detail would take a lot longer, be quite boring and would lead some to just blindly copying things instead of being forced to understand what they are doing. I could imagine that some young readers might find this a bit challenging so it's probably a good idea to have a computer literate adult around to help out if they get stuck. The included complete source for each game also helps although looking at this does feel a bit like cheating. Each stage ends with suggestions for further programming on ones own and I felt that these are really the key for this book to succeed as a learning tool as these make one think about and apply what was just read. Again I think this would be a good point for a parent or someone older to step in and encourage a younger reader to build on what they've learnt and suggest creating something new for themselves. The book contains plenty of pointers to online resources where readers can learn more, ask questions and share their creations with others.

I would definitely recommend Super Scratch Programming Adventure for those eager to learn programming but be aware that to really get the most out of it it's probably best if someone who already knows how to program is around to read along, help out and encourage further creation outside of what the book shows. There is a wealth of Scratch related information on the internet but this book provides a good way to get started by demonstrating how to build fun applications and hopefully this in turn will encourage readers to move on to creating more on their own.

Full disclosure: I was given a copy of this book free of charge by the publisher for review purposes. They placed no restrictions on what I could say and left me to be as critical as I wanted so the above review is my own honest opinion.

You can purchase Super Scratch Programming Adventure!: Learn to Program By Making Cool Games from Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.


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Book Review: Super Scratch Programming Adventure!

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  • Re:BASIC (Score:5, Informative)

    by Teancum ( 67324 ) <robert_horning AT netzero DOT net> on Monday January 14, 2013 @04:29PM (#42585017) Homepage Journal

    The one thing that Scratch does by far and away better than Dartmouth BASIC (and subsequent variants) is the ability to implement multimedia design. It also introduces some "real time" programming concepts like event driven interrupts, multithreaded programming, and a whole bunch of other fun and interesting ideas that simply flow from the language design where you don't even need to teach the kids what they mean before they are using them extensively in their programming.

    Mind you, I was one of those folks who learned how to program not in the 1990's but rather in the 1970's on 110 baud teletype terminals with crusty yellow paper and the ability to use punch tape for data storage. That was using the real Dartmouth BASIC and not the fancy stuff that later 8-bit microcomputers did to pervert the language. BASIC has its place and does some really fun things, but if you haven't tried Scratch, you don't know what you are missing.

    Having a bunch of young kids myself, I've introduced Scratch programming to them and it is a perfect fit for introducing computer programming to middle school kids (nine to twelve year olds give or take a year or two on each end). It has a couple of artificial limitations simply because of some paranoia on the part of MIT that I strongly disagree with (it has no file I/O and the Scratch 2.0 variant has a really quirky network socket layer that is just odd) but you can do some really interesting things with the language.

    If you want to whip up a program in an hour or two to do something really fun and interesting, Scratch is by far and away the best language to do a prototype multimedia programming interface. That would give you the added benefit that some employer or boss that says to use that interface for production code would have to be informed that you will be using a "real" compiler for the production stuff and that the interface is only a prototype.

  • by Barefoot Monkey ( 1657313 ) on Monday January 14, 2013 @04:42PM (#42585159)

    "Literally" doesn't mean what you think it does, dipshit.

    From the site []:
    "Check out the 3,029,110 projects from around the world!"

Each new user of a new system uncovers a new class of bugs. -- Kernighan