Super Scratch Programming Adventure! (Covers Version 1.4): Learn to Program By Making Cool Games Paperback – Sep 2 2012
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About the Author
The Learning through Engineering, Art, and Design (LEAD) Project is an educational initiative established to encourage the development of creative thinking through the use of technology. Created by The Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups in collaboration with the MIT Media Lab, the LEAD project promotes hands-on, design-based activities to foster innovation, problem solving skills, and technical literacy.
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Scratch is a mostly drag-and-drop environment that lets you build simple animations, play sounds, and determine when objects overlap. The book walks you through creating some very simple games such as making characters walk around the screen, collecting "dimensional strings" without getting zapped, dodging bad guys in a maze, and battling dark wizards in space.
The games are corny but don't let the simplicity of the storyline fool you. Although the games seem simple, they introduce important programming concepts. They show how to use variables, loops, events, broadcast messages, sprites, animation, timing, pseudorandom numbers, sound, and more. They also show how to use the Scratch programming environment to build programs, edit images, and interact with the user.
After reading this book and working through the example games, you won't know how to program in general-purpose languages such as Java, C++, C#, or Visual Basic, but you will know some of the fundamentals needed to understand those languages so learning them should be a bit easier. There are many differences between Scratch's drag-and-drop approach and those other languages, which require much more typing, but Scratch may provide a gentle and entertaining introduction to programming concepts. And you just might end up writing some games that are fun enough to be worth playing more than once.
The book's forward says Scratch is designed for ages 8 and up, and that seems about right. My son, who is now 10, has been to several game programming day camps over the last few years. They used an environment somewhat similar to Scratch and he loved them. Working through this book would probably have given him an even better introduction to programming and I suspect it would have been even more fun.
If you're an adult and you want to learn "real" programming, you should probably look for a book about the specific language you want to study such as Java, C#, or whatever. If you're a younger aspiring game developer looking for a fun introduction to programming, or an adult that wants to try a different method of programming, this book may be perfect for you!
I considered the following before discovering this book (via BoingBoing) - Alice (what, until recently, we used at my University); Mindstorms (modified LabVIEW); actual old-school command-line BASIC or similar ('cause that's what I speak). However, Alice spends way too much time in the uncanny valley, Mindstorms takes a while to debug (run, watch the robot hit a wall, troubleshoot, debug, run......), doesn't really get you to games and is also very abstract, and I wanted something he could do on his own without my help.
Enter Super Scratch - this language and this book are aimed precisely at kids who are out to create games. It's games from page 1, you can see the programmer's self-efficacy grow immediately. My son spun off on his own after lesson ~4, saying he 'sees how it works' now. He's still working his way through the book, but he's doing 'jazz' on top of the lessons. It's cool.
This is a good introduction to algorithmic thinking and common structures like "while" loops. An amusing by-product is that my son has said he prefers designing board-games now, as the instructions don't have to be as precise for humans as for machines. He gets it!
Yes, we could have used free online resources to learn Scratch, but having it laid out in a logical, appropriately paced, and non-distracting manner is a plus for the book over the Internet. Further, he enjoys the self-consciously cheesy story lines that frame the problems. That being said, I don't think I'd use this book with anyone over the age of 12 (at least until they're 20 and can appreciate irony better).
It's cool. I like like how the book makes it easier to figure out how Scratch works. I like how it has cartoons at the beginning of each stage. I think everyone should buy this for their kids if they have enough money for it. Anybody can get Scratch because it is free.
As an adult, I largely concur. The Scratch website has some good introductory documentation, but it's kind of hard for a kid to follow alone. This, however, is just what an inspired kid needs to dive right in. And of course the "games!" focus is a good hook. The official web site is referred to at the end of the book, and makes a great next step.
I have to say I was not impressed with the book when I first flipped through it. it seemed too simple. But I recalled that I learned when I was little from a game book too. But Holy cow! I was surprised when this went down as easy as a bowl of fruit loops. The kids think of programming as a game now and beg to get more programming time instead of their other video games. They write their own code for fun then and it's of course terrible in design-- then we sit together and try to think of a better design. perfect! So this book knows its audience better than I did. A great stand alone tool and a gateway drug for parental involvement in fun with learning.
The book's physical construction is nice too. It's sturdy since your little one is going to be bending this thing open while they refer to it during their coding. It has extended flaps on the front and back which can help it stay open and mark pages. and it's heavy weight glossy paper. There is a thread linking all the games as a series of cartoon adventures of a main character. It's pretty dopey but my kids loved it and eplained at length to me how the games fit the story. So again the authors new their readers. While as an adult I would have wanted more than 9 games this seemed to be just the right size as not to be intimidating. My kids competed a little for bragging rights on what level (chapter) they were on. If it had been longer that could have gotten out of hand with no chance to catch up. But this was just right. Now were's the next book???
However, the Kindle edition is a hefty download and nearly brought my iPad 2 to its knees. God forbid you want to turn more than one page at a time. You will be waiting a while for the page to load. Also, even though she was able to copy the programs and get the games to work, since it mainly focuses on simply copying code, I found she really hadn't absorbed the concepts well. When I asked her to create a simple program like things she had already done from the book, she didn't know how. She just focused on copying what was in the book and wasn't thinking through the programs carefully. She learned more from programming books that explained a concept and then asked her to come up with a short program that utilized the concept on her own.
There are the Scratchy's challenges that ask students to make a modification to the program they've copied in their own which would encourage some creative tinkering with the concepts but I just found that my daughter hadn't absorbed the concepts well enough from copying down the programs to be able to handle those.
We've abandoned the book for a while and I've just set her to producing fun videos that have her repeatedly using some basic concepts. Once in a while, she wants to do something she's not sure how to do, so she either figures it out on her own, or we discuss it together. She seems to be progressing pretty well that way and maybe after a while, we will go back and start the book over again. I think she'll get more out of it once she is more familiar with some basic concepts of programming and is ready for the more advanced aspects that are covered in the projects.
To summarize, this book is a colorful and engaging introduction to the world of programming, but children younger than teens, the format is not conducive to really absorbing the programming concepts. Teenagers would probably be capable of following along just from the examples but might find the format childish.
EDIT: The publisher sent me a compressed format version of this book. The pictures still look crisp but it greatly reduces the load on my iPad2 and even works well on my daughter's Kindle Fire. So I've upgraded my rating from 3-stars to 4-stars.