New Curriculum: Newton Middle-School Students Program in Scratch to Create Games for Teaching Earth Science

Eighth-grade Earth Science teachers at two Newton middle schools — F. A. Day and Brown — have been testing a new curriculum, Building Systems from Scratch, that empowers students to use the Scratch programming environment to create games that teach climate science. The curriculum, developed by researchers at TERC (Technical Education Research Centers), covers 20 hours of instruction and is aligned with both Massachusetts science education standards and CSTA standards for computer science. As shown in this video, students work in pairs on programming, do independent research on climate science, and engage in “design studio” critique sessions. Assessments are showing that this curriculum based on game design yields benefits in students’ understanding of both climate science and computational thinking.

Michelle Fox (8th Grade Science teacher at Brown) said, “The kids were really engaged with this project! They came out of it understanding the implications of climate change and our collective responsibility in mitigating its effects. The broader learning goal to the project — to help students understand systems thinking, with its balancing and reinforcing feedback loops — was very different from how I’d ever presented the material before. As a teacher and an adult learner, I really appreciated that shift in focus and will continue to use it. I also had a great time learning Scratch along with the kids!”

Newton’s other two middle schools, Bigelow and Oak Hill, will begin using the Building Systems from Scratch curriculum next year.