One of the most powerful things about the Leap Motion platform is its ability to tie into just about any creative platform. That’s why we’ve launched a Platform Integrations & Libraries showcase where you can discover the latest wrappers, plugins, and integrations.

Whether you started programming at four years old, or yesterday afternoon, there’s nothing like that first time when something you coded springs to life and says “Hello World!” Scratch is a simple programming language that aims to bring that experience to more people than ever, with simple building blocks that make programming fun and accessible for beginners of all ages.

Wscratch-logoith the new Leap Motion ScratchX extension, students can bring hand data into ScratchX – an experimental space that lets you try extensions in the Scratch programming environment. ScratchX extensions make it easy to program physical devices like Arduino boards, or build simple web apps. On our Developer Gallery, you can find the extension along with two new examples: a simple hand skeleton and a prize wheel game. Yesterday, we caught up with Kreg Hanning, the extension’s creator.

ScratchHand

What’s the story behind Scratch?

The people at the Lifelong Kindergarten research group at the MIT Media Lab who developed Scratch probably say it best:

We wanted to develop an approach to programming that would appeal to people who hadn’t previously imagined themselves as programmers. We wanted to make it easy for everyone, of all ages, backgrounds, and interests, to program their own interactive stories, games, animations, and simulations, and share their creations with one another…

As Scratchers program and share interactive projects, they learn important mathematical and computational concepts, as well as how to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively, all essential skills for the 21st century. Indeed, our primary goal is not to prepare people for careers as professional programmers but to nurture a new generation of creative, systematic thinkers comfortable using programming to express their ideas.

What happens when people are able to start programming at a younger age?

I think getting students to start programming at a younger age takes away some of the mystery surrounding computing. A lot of technology today is designed as a means of consumption. With computer programming, students are able to flip that role and become the creators using technology.

Beyond computer literacy I think teaching kids to program helps them learn the important skill of problem solving. They learn how they can take a larger problem and break it down into smaller pieces that they can then solve.

ScratchWheel

How can people get started with the Leap Motion Scratch plugin?

Getting started with the extension is easier than ever thanks to the LeapJS library and ScratchX. To get started:

  1. Install the Leap Motion software
  2. Navigate to http://scratchx.org/?url=http://khanning.github.io/scratch-leapmotion-extension/leapmotion_extension.js
  3. Start creating!

For more detailed information on the extension you can see the documentation at http://khanning.github.io/scratch-leapmotion-extension.

What should teachers know about Scratch + Leap Motion?

620px-Coord_system_CA_0.svgScratch + Leap Motion can be a great way to introduce and reinforce the Cartesian coordinate system in your classroom. Instead of plotting points on a piece of paper, they can use their hand to create a Scratch project that demonstrates their understanding of the Cartesian coordinate system.

I’m hoping to build a community of educators that are using the extension in their classrooms. Please reach out to me if you would like to share the work your students have done with Scratch + Leap Motion or if you just need help getting started.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever seen built in Scratch?

So many projects come to mind. One of my fourth grade students built a random excuse generator that lead to some surprising results! One of the most surprising projects I have come across is a simple 3D particle system simulation.

What’s next for the plugin? Any new features you’d like to see?

I think the only area I would like to see the plugin expand would be adding more gestures. Gestures work great to trigger events in Scratch and it would be wonderful if the list of recognized gestures was expanded.

The Leap Motion extension for Scratch was created during a partnership between the Kennedy-Longfellow Elementary School in Cambridge, MA and Lesley University.

Are you a teacher or learner working with Scratch in the classroom? We’d love to hear from you! Post about your work in the comments or on our community forums.

Alex is the head writer and blog editor at Leap Motion, where he stands as the final bulwark against bad grammar. Want to share your Leap Motion project? Email acolgan@leapmotion.com or PM leapmotion_alex on Reddit.

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