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Communications of the ACM


Fostering Creativity Through Computing

Scratch Blocks prototype

A prototype implementation of Scratch Blocks, from Google Developers Blog, in collaboration with the MIT Media Lab's Scratch Team.

Credit: Google Developers Blog

Computing has the potential to provide users opportunities to extend their creative expression to solve problems, create computational artifacts, and develop new knowledge. The pervasive nature of computing and accessibility of digital tools is also transforming K-12 education as students move from being mere consumers of content to engaging in the subject matter by creating computational artifacts. Take Scratch, for example, which is one of the many tools designed to teach kids to code, and comes with varying levels of support for educators implementing them in both formal and informal learning settings. Scratch provides students with an opportunity to express their creativity through stories, games, and animations. While Scratch has the potential to be a powerful tool, it is often used as little more than a presentation tool in the classroom. Studies of Scratch users show that few projects use variables or control flow data structures. While the Scratch environment provides a 'low floor, high ceiling' that allows beginners to dive into the environment without frustration, many students do not advance to a higher level. Tools like Scratch can empower students to showcase their creativity like never before; however, the way these tools are taught by teachers and used by students significantly influences whether students move along the creativity continuum. While Scratch is widely used, we know little about how it influences students' creative thinking.

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K-12 Computer Science Education and Creativity

In his widely viewed TED talk, Sir Ken Robinson severely criticized educational institutions, claiming that we are "educating people out of their creativity." Perhaps in response to this, or perhaps just due to the recognition of the importance of students developing creativity as they learn computer science, the College Board has identified creativity as one of the seven "big ideas" as part of the new Advanced Placement CS Principles (CSP) course. In fact, variations of the word creative appear 62 times within the AP CSP Course and Exam Description. The argument is that computing fosters creativity by allowing individuals to move from merely being consumers of technology to building tools that can have a significant impact on society. The CSP course outlines how computing can enable people to not only use computing for creative expression, but also "extend traditional forms of human expression and experience."1 An understanding and use of computing (such as software tools and services), deep knowledge of a discipline, and creative expression allows individuals to create computational artifacts and/or solve problems. The partnership an individual establishes with computing tools enhances not only his/her creative expression, but it can even lead to new forms of artifacts.3 For example, musician Iannis Xenakis used probability distribution in the early 1950s to compose music, which he called Stochastic Music. In order to accelerate the stochastic calculations, Xenakis started programming. His programs not only computed the composition of the orchestra (percentages of each section), but also the assignment of a note to particular instrument. The deep knowledge of the discipline (music) and an understanding of computer programming allowed Xenakis to combine the power of computing to compose stochastic music.


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