Roamer Scratch Interface

  • Published June 5, 2015
  • By Dave Catlin and Andrew Csizmadia

You Can Now Program Roamer from Scratch

Valiant Technology started working with educational robots in 1983. In those days people used Logo to program Turtles. Now you can use Roamer ScratchX to program Roamer. In this article I explain how it makes an ideal partnership.

 A Brief History of Scratch

Mitch Resnick is the director MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten group.  Their research led to the idea of Scratch. Originally designed as a media rich programming environment to help students develop their technological expertise, Scratch has become one of the most popular educational programming tools ever developed.  Registered Scratch users number 7 million with ages ranging from 4 to 80.

In 2003 Mitch and the Playful Invention Company founder’s Brian Silverman and Paula Bonta developed a desktop-version of Scratch. Mitch and Brian had been MIT students of Seymour Papert.  By inventing Logo and the Turtle, Papert became the founder of educational robotics. Paula Bonta was lead designer of PICO and various educational software projects for the Logo company LCSI.  These strong connections to the Logo Turtle tradition resonate in the design of Scratch.

 In 2007 Scratch 2.0 went onto the Internet.  Papert called a “social constructionism phenomena”. Students could create projects and readily share them and remix them into different forms.

 Scratch and the Computing Curriculum

The recent focus on coding has led to a big increase in the use of Scratch in primary schools.  It provides an environment where students can develop coding skills individually or collaboratively.  The colourful phrases” low floor, high ceiling and wide walls” characterises Scratch.

  1. Low floor means students can easily start projects
  2. High ceiling refers to the Scratch’s capacity to support complex projects
  3. Wide walls is the diversity of possible projects

These traits make it ideal for dealing with the issues of differentiation while supporting creative computational thinking.

What is Scratch?

Papert developed Logo as a computer language that young children could understand and use. Yet it is also capable challenging older gifted students.  It is low floor and high ceiling.  Logo is a text based language so students could write FORWARD 1 as an instruction which a robot could understand. The Roamer programming language is a variation on Logo. Instead of text Roamer uses symbols. Scratch is a visual programming language.  In the code snippets below you can see Logo and Roamer code for repeating a set of instructions enclosed brackets.  The Scratch repeat command gives visual code of the same idea.

It is easy to make a mistake programming.  You might get the syntax wrong, or perhaps an error in your logic. Finding and correcting these bugs can be soul destroying and tedious, particularly for novice programmers. When you enter a command into Roamer, it checks the syntax.  It you get it wrong it tells you the correct sequence of key presses.  The design of the Scratch blocks creates a virtual jigsaw puzzle. You can only fit blocks together in a way that makes sense.

Instead of a physical robot Scratch controls a virtual or screen robot, called a sprite. You press symbols to program instructions into Roamer.   With Scratch you arrange “blocks” into programs and then download into Roamer.

A Scratch Block instructing the computer to play a drum

Both Roamer and Scratch scaffold code learning. This puts the focus on student’s logical thinking to solve problems. Helping students to develop their thinking skills was part of Papert’s approach to education.

The Scratch Environment

Scratch is free. When you use it, you become a “Scratcher” and you have an account where you can create and share projects. Shown below is the home page for the Roamer Account in Scratch 2.0. Here you see a variety of features which allow Scratchers to collaborate and share their programs and inspirations.

ScratchX (Extensions)

Recently the Scratch Team developed ScratchX (Scratch Extensions). Students can program hardware like Roamer using special blocks added to the “More Blocks” palette.

The Scratch Team considers all the extensions experimental.  They impose some limits on the extension hardware.  For example, Roamer ScratchX commands can only control the robot not the sprite.  We have devised ways around this for the basic Roamer commands forward, backwards, etc.   Negotiations between Valiant and Scratch will lead to more advances aimed at enriching the educational capacity of the technology.

Roamer ScratchX

There are four Roamer Scratch environments – one for each standard Roamer: Early Years, Infant K1, Primary and Junior.  Each environment contains Roamer Scratch for the particular Roamer behaviour.

When using Roamer students often adopt a style of step-by-step programming.  Writing code requires a different approach.  When programming with ScratchX  students have to adopt a more authentic programming style.  First they need to break down a problem into sub problems and then write code to resolve these little puzzles.  They then need to bring their solutions together in a way that resolves the main problem.

In writing code for Roamer, students are effectively creating the content of Roamer’s memory.  They are creating two types of list:

  1. GO Program List: the program Roamer executes when you press GO
  2. Procedure List: A list of instructions that define a special command the programmer thinks will prove useful

This makes the student’s thinking apparent; they can see both the GO Program and the Procedures laid out in one place.  Once you have created the lists you can then download the programs to Roamer and test them.
When you enter the Scratch Extension site you will notice warnings that this is an experimental site.  All ScratchX projects have beta test status.  This means they have been tested in-house and released for public testing/review.

Working with Roamer ScratchX

You need to:

  1. Join RUG (Roamer User Group) – Membership is Free to all Roamer Users
  2. Install RoamerWorld
    1. A Free software package available to all RUG Members
    2. Get it from the Free Downloads on the RUG site
  3. Launch Roamer ScratchX from RoamerWorld
  4. Link Roamer to the computer using either:
    1. Computer Interface
    2. Roamer Bluetooth Module
  5. Check out the example activity The Scarlet Pumpernickel Scratch Activity
    1.  This introduces Roamer ScratchX and its use with Roamer
    2. It is an example activity in the Roamer Activity Library
  6. Check out the Free Roamer Scratch Training Material in the Roamer Training Site under Software/Scratch menu option

Future Development

Roamer ScratchX and Scratch Extensions is an ongoing development.   The Scratch Team requested Valiant to send them feature requests.  If you have an idea of how you would like to see this develop, please use the Friends of Roamer form below.

Friends of Roamer: Roamer Scratch Requests and Suggestions

Roamer Scratch Feature Request




Keep In Touch

We expect regular developments in this area. Keep monitoring the Roamer Product Development and Roamer News for the addition of new Scratch Activities in the Roamer Activity Library.  Perhaps the most efficient way to keep in touch is to sign up for the RSS Feed. This will send you emails of all developments. Of course you can follow Roamer on Facebook and Twitter.


ScratchX (Scratch Extensions) – Roamer Scratch Projects.  It may take awhile for the ScratchX site to open. You will need to press the Continue I agree button when it appears.

Roamer Projects on Scratch – This is a place to add your conventional Scratch Project Featuring Roamer.


Development Team: Dave Catlin, Dave Ewins and Kevin Rands

Education Advice: Dave Catlin, Kate Hudson, Miles Berry, Andrew Csizmadia, Maurice Meredith, Alan Coode, Stephanie Holmquist, Ian Sillet and Deniece Graham.

Scratch Team: Kreg Henning

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