May 2

Get non-programming students interested in programming

This year, I ran into the obstacle of trying to teach programming to students who at this point in time do not want to be programmers.  I have recently introduced them to the Alice 3D Programming Environment. Alice is a free programming environment developed by Carnegie Mellon University.

Alice was designed specifically for teaching.  Because of this design approach, students using Alice are also immediately able to jump in and start creating with Alice.  Alice is a graphic object-oriented environment that focuses visual story telling rather than the typical computational approach of other programming languages.

In Alice, students start with a blank environment of Dirt, Grass, Sand, Snow, Water, or Space.  Then the students can add various objects to the scene using <strong>drag and drop</strong>.  These objects can then be programmed to perform actions to create a Movie in Alice.  As soon as I introduced Alice, my students’ interest jumped.  Students who "hated programming" were eagerly dragging methods for their characters to perform in the movie.  The first movies were very simple and choppy.  However, the more they explored their options, the more detailed their movies started to become.

Carnegie Mellon has made it extremely easy to get started with Alice.  First, you do not need to install Alice.  All you have to do is download and run the Alice executable.  They have even included a streamlined version for those who might have problems running Alice on older computers.  Second, Alice comes with several interactive tutorials that guide the students through the basic steps in creating a movie in Alice with a hands-on approach.  Finally, the Alice website (www.alice.org), has a large amount of resources from FAQs to Community Support from seasoned Alice Teachers.

In addition to the Alice 3D Programming Environment which is aimed at high school and college students, there is also a version aim at the middle school level.  Carnegie Mellon has created Story Telling Alice to make programming more fun for a demographic not typically interested in programming, middle school girls.  Although, middle school boys will also benefit from this as well.

Currently Alice is at version 2.2.  However, version 3.0 is expected to be released this summer as a public beta.  Development of version 3.0 is being underwritten by Electronic Arts (think The Sims).  I am really looking forward to how version 3.0 will improve the programming environment and open up the option for use in other subject areas.  For example, I can see History students re-creating a significant event in Alice or English students creating a movie about a particular story or unit they are studying.  Alice is designed so that the teacher does not necessarily need to be a programmer in order to teach the basic of creating movies in Alice.   While I have experience programming from my years in the I.T. biz, I do not consider myself to be primarily a programmer.  Carnegie Mellon has made the process of introducing programming to Alice extremely easy. I wish I had been more familiar with Alice prior to the start of this year so I could have implemented it first.

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Posted May 2, 2009 by bk in category Lesson Materials, Programming, Teaching Tools

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