Thursday, March 26, 2015

Combining computers with discipleship for kids with Scratch

It's a silly gimmick, I thought when I first heard of Scratch. Teaching elementary school kids to program. Why would they need programming at that age?

In fact, when the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) requested computer curriculum for primary school kids, my first thought was again that kids that age don't have practical use for a computer, at least not that justifies the effort and expense in Africa. But as I prayerfully considered it, I realized this was a golden opportunity. The fact is, more and more, computers are saturating kids' lives, and Africa is not exempt. So if we are to teach them to use the computer in a godly way and not be blindly formed by whatever it tells them, we have to start early. "You know, programming would be just the thing for that," I realized. It would demystify the machine for them, showing them that computers really are only as good as the instructions given to them. They would understand early on how to use it to its full advantage, and get plenty of clear examples of its limitations. Furthermore, Scratch offers ways to integrate with other subjects and even bring older and younger children together. Fourth graders can write an interactive storybook which the second graders can read. Fifth graders can make motion-involved games to illustrate physics to the fourth graders. And all along the way, we can teach them how we too are programmed, and so we had better pick our programmer wisely!

So now not only are we working on a system called Puppy, now we're working with the Scratch cat! This cute little guy was designed to teach kids how to program. See those puzzle-piece blocks to the right? Those are commands they can string together. Way to go MIT!

You can play with Scratch for free, too at!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Strategic Chaos

I sometimes wonder if I dizzy you with all the things I talk about that I do. Computer Training Outreach, Biblical Health & Life Management, Programming & Databases, primary school curriculum. ICCM seminars, Mothers & Media seminar, Families & Media Bible study. Going to Nigeria, going to Zambia, talking to Kenya and Uganda, praying about Tanzania and Sierre Leone. Writer training, editor training, teacher training. The needs are SO GREAT throughout Africa, and the opportunities so potent, that we get excited easily about possibilities to serve.

Some of these possibilities fizzle, some of them stay open but the going is oh-so-slow, some of them lead to unexpected twists, and some of them take off beyond what we could ask or imagine. Tons of prayer and strategy goes into how we choose where to go, and then more often than not we get re-directed through circumstances – but in that we see the Lord's guidance. Computer training was our starting point, which TEN3 wanted to move beyond, but it became a priority as our "launch base." On the other hand, primary education went from a "hopefully someday" idea to golden opportunity to connect that computer training launch base to all the venues we've dreamed of reaching.

I don't know if I could possibly summarize these years of development into something anyone would actually read, but I can tell you this much: our goal remains the same. African churches overcoming the severe challenges they currently face and emerging as world leaders in education and the spread of the gospel. Our methods remain the same: train educators in discipleship and sound educational principles, give them materials to enable them to implement those principles, consult them how to run them sustainably. The possibilities for partners and venues open and close, but they always eventually bring us right where we need to be.