The latest programming language to come out of MIT's cutting-edge labs has an unusual audience: sixth-graders. “Scratch” replaces the technobabble of Java and C++ with simplified, jigsaw-shaped pieces of code, which budding programmers can arrange into customized sequences. A test group of 12-year-olds in Massachusetts is already at work designing programs in the new language.
A social-networking site then hosts kid-to-kid critiques of the finished products, from a flying snowman to a virtual police chase. The process, the researchers say, helps build skills textbooks don’t. "Creative thinking is more important than ever before," says the director of the Scratch project. "Just learning a fixed set of facts in school isn't going to be enough."