Teachers and students from across North Carolina learned the Alice programming language this summer during a workshop and camp at Duke University with support from the National Science Foundation and IBM. Alice uses simple commands to animate student-created movies and video games. According to the workshop organizer, Dr. Susan Rodger from Duke University, “Middle school students don’t really know what computer science is about. Alice is changing that by attracting both boys and girls with its virtual worlds storytelling and interactive capabilities. Our workshop showed that Alice can be used for problem solving and presentations in different disciplines such as math, science, English, art, business, and history.”
Students and teachers alike were drawn to the visual format. Tom Robertson, a middle school mathematics and technology teacher from Asheville, said, “This summer I had the opportunity to observe middle school students using Alice to build creative 3-dimensional interactive worlds. They were completely engrossed in the task at hand: computer programming. Clearly, Alice was providing a technology experience that went beyond the typical PowerPoint presentation.” Janie Torain, a business teacher from Person High School in Person County, agreed. She noted that students in her class will use Alice Programming software to explore multimedia production while creating presentations in a ”FUN-damentally’ different and more enjoyable way than ever before.”
Teachers from many disciplines beyond technology and career education connected with Alice. Math teacher Bridgette Scott created a world for teaching the coordinate plane. Math teacher Cheri Grantlin from Durham plans to integrate Alice into creating engaging class starters. Nashville science teacher Alisa White noted Alice’s assessment possibilities. She said, “Worlds created by middle school students effectively promote interdisciplinary understanding, problem solving and learning fundamental concepts in life, earth, and physical science within a short period of time. It is a great assessment tool.”
Humanities teachers recognized Alice as a way to encourage student creativity and engage students with literature. According to Person County teacher Andrea Payne, “Alice slows the thinking down and helps a child think about ‘thinking about.’ Storyboarding takes thoughts from abstract to concrete. This is how screenwriters do it: they storyboard.”
For students, the most important aspect of Alice was the opportunity for self-expression. Jesse, a middle school student at the camp, said, “It’s interactive; that’s cool. It’s open – you know – there’s a lot you can do with it.” Brittany, another middle schooler, was looking forward to using Alice for projects. She said, “I like that you can actually create your own ideas and express yourself and have fun with it.”
Teachers who are interested in Alice can download free middle school lesson plans and materials from the Duke workshop. -DR. SUSAN RODGER
Note: This article was put together by Dr. Susan Rodger and several teachers attending the Adventures in Alice Programming Workshop held at Duke University in June and July 2008.
Alice (free download)