Software Engineering - Would You Like to Meet Alice?

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Objective

SWBAT use an innovative programming environment to create 3D animations.

Big Idea

Learn the basics of computer programming while creating 3D animations.

The Need for the Lesson

There is a shortage of computer programmers in the US.

In addition to careers, computer programming teaches students how to think and persevere to solve problems.

How can we encourage students to pursue a career in the software industry?

One way is to introduce computer programming in a gentle, entertaining way to students. 

There are many websites designed to teach students to code but my fallback is always to Alice. Alice can be downloaded to the student computer or flash drive. It does not require internet access or a online student account. Versions of Alice can be downloaded to run on a PC or MAC. Bonus - students enjoy using the program!

Investigation Preparation & Summary

5 minutes

Students will be designing their own computer program using Alice. There are no step-by-step instructions for their design so students will need to identify their own criteria for success. Students will attempt possible coding solutions and then revise their solutions as needed. (MS-ETS1.3 - Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success.)

Programming is by definition an iterative process. Trial and error is necessary to achieve optimal design. (MS-ETS1.4 - Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved.) 

Alice is a free program that can be downloaded from Alice.org. It is a free program from Carnegie Mellon University.

You will want to download the latest version of Alice 2.X. Alice 3.X is a bit too difficult to be used for an introduction. Alice can be downloaded for both PC and Mac. Once downloaded, the internet is not required to use the program. Alice can be downloaded and run from a flash drive as well. 

Students in Action

180 minutes

I begin by telling students that computer programming is not that difficult as long as you are willing to persevere and use your problem solving skills. I have some credibility here because I was a computer programmer for 22 years before becoming a teacher.

In this Code Stars video, you will here from some well-known programmers about what it takes to work in the field.

 

 

I give students a short overview of Alice, showing how to create a simple Alice world.

 

If students need a little extra help getting started with Alice, this video shows you have to access the tutorials and sample worlds. 

I spend very little time actually teaching students to use Alice. I find that a few minutes of instruction is sufficient. Students are naturally curious and not afraid to try new things. As I walk around the room and notice that a student has discovered something fun or interesting I say out loud, "Does any one want to know how to move objects with the arrow keys - Johnny has discovered how to move objects using the arrow keys." Suddenly Johnny has a small group os students hovering around his computer learning how to control objects with arrow keys. 

When a student asks a question, I repeat the question for the entire class. "Can anyone help with this question?" Almost always a student or students have already found the answer and are willing to share.

I rarely give an assignment using Alice. The first time I gave an assignment, students gave me just what I asked for - nothing really interesting or creative. By allowing students sandbox time to play with Alice, I have found that what they create far exceeds any assignment I could have given them.

After 3-5 days with Alice, I ask students to each share what they have created. This is an amazing time where we all learn something new about Alice.

If you simply must give an assignment, I would suggest - My Life at Forty or An Introduction to Me. My Life at Forty challenges students to think about what their life will be like in the future, and an Introduction to Me can be a world that shows the student's family, hobbies and interests. 

There are a few things to be aware of when using Alice. One thing students try to do is double-click on the files to open Alice. Alice does not work like the Microsoft programs. You must open Alice first, then open the files. If students allow their computer to go to sleep, the preview image for Alice may be black. Simply save the Alice code and restart Alice. 

Assembling a Mouse

 

 A science demonstration of viscosity.

 

A book report for ELA

Duke has posted some great lesson plans written by teachers using Alice across the content areas - here.