Waraku Education

Ideas, experiments and observations as they occur [and I have time] relating to teaching and learning in a secondary school - special focus on ICT.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Did I say 'Alice' was free

Did I say 'Alice' was free.

 "This product includes software developed by Carnegie Mellon University"

What was I thinking? It can't be any good then can it? [tongue in cheek] If we don't have to pay money for it then it can't be industry standard [important to have industry standard for middle school students :+( ] and it will be far too hard to teach the kids. [cheek surface is considerably distorted]. [need saucer of milk]

Had to make a deal with myself about the report writing. I solemnly pledged that if I didn't write my reports now I would write them later. Besides, it is not healthy to write reports between the hours of 3:30am and 7:00am.

Once I had downloaded Alice I unziped it to a folder on my C: drive and then ran the program alice.exe. That will make things really simple for installing it on the computers at school should we do that.

I have done the first Alice tutorial and survived. I learned how to sequence tasks for an object and the basics of the Alice interface.

I have also stuffed around a bit and exported a movie to html. It worked in my free browser after I had downloaded a couple of Java bits (nicely prompted to do this)

Next tutorial uses a scenario of a bunny that gets rudely awoken by the ringing of a mobile phone. In this tutorial I created a new method for the bunny object called 'bunny squashes phone'. I made a mistake in following one of the tutorial instructions and I got the message “Alice thinks that you didn't follow the instructions”. It then told me what to do about it. Noyice. I edited a method in this tutorial as well.

The next tutorial involves making use of user input and the last one involves creating scenes. Too tired to do this now.

I have gone back to theAlice website and noticed that there are lots of objects that can be got and used. Some have multiple parts and and predefined methods. Lots of off the shelf scenarios here.

There is a text book.

Learning to Program with Alice Beta Version, 1/e

Wanda Dann
Stephen Cooper
Randy Pausch

ISBN: 0131424203
Format: Paperback ; 352 pp
Published: 26/07/2004
Retail Price: $69.95 (inc. GST)

There is a new final edition being published next month.

OK so there is some dollars involved here. I'll need to check it out for suitability for middle school students.

'Alice' for teaching programming skills

Finding the right introduction for programming for students has been an ongoing investigation. Javascript integrated into web construction, Gamemaker, Crocodile thingy .... The following popped up in my feed that could be interesting.

"Enrollments are down 23 percent in the computer science discipline. And at the top echelon, people aren't too bothered by it, because we will be the last to be impacted, right? But this is a huge, huge problem. And it's a huge problem for the country."

[Randy Pausch is Professor, Human Computer Interaction, Computer Science, at Carnegie Mellon University, and Design Director of CMU's Entertainment Technology Center (ETC), a joint initiative of the School of Computer Science and the College of Fine Arts.]

The longest-running research project I have is called Alice, and it is using some of the underlying technology from 3-D graphics (driven of course by video games) and some of the inspiration of storytelling as a powerful human motivator (everybody wants to tell stories) — and using that to devise a system that is able to provide a better, first exposure to computer programming, in much the same way that Logo used to. But this is much more advanced than Logo was, to the point where it can be used for a full semester course at the college level.

"Oh, here is something that could change the fact that young people are not going into our discipline"? When I say I'm the only game in town, I'm saying that we have an entirely novel way to introduce people to programming, where we have huge amounts of evidence that we have a teaching strategy that works even at the middle school level. Typically, a kid's first exposure to programming frankly sucks, right?

I seem to have found the home of 'Alice' at http://www.alice.org/

Learning to program a computer is hard.
Alice makes learning to program easier. And it's fun.
Alice makes programming more accessible to girls as well as boys.

Alice is free.

It seems that if we were to use Alice we would need to do this section of courses from CO4 or maybe CO3. While the program will run on all of our machines, it probably will not run well.

Operating system requirements:

  • Windows ME, Windows 2000, or Windows XP

Minimum hardware requirements:

  • A Pentium running at 500 MHz or better
  • a VGA graphics card capable of high (16 bit) color
  • 128 MB of RAM
  • video resolution of 1024x768
  • A sound card

Recommended hardware requirements:

  • A Pentium running at 1.0 GHz or better
  • 16 MB 3D video card (TNT, i810, Rage 128, GeForce, Radeon equivalent or better)
  • 256 MB of RAM
Alice is still downloading (118mb) as I write this so I will have a play later. I am just a bit excited about this. I had better leave having a play until I finish writing my reports because I if I do it the other way around the reports may not get done :-)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Legend of Ned Kelly – an electronic resource

Jonas prepared the following statement from the teachers perspective re the use of the 'Ned Kelly' learning object and has given his consent to me publishing it here.

Using Patrick Brennan: The Legend of Ned Kelly – an electronic resource

The idea of this activity is to encourage students to evaluate the testimonies of several key witnesses who had some dealings with Ned Kelly and his gang during their career. The students’ task is then to produce a newspaper article discussing Ned’s status as a hero or a villain.

This exercise was included as part of a Year Nine SOSE Australian history unit, within the Time Continuity and Change strand, on the Goldrush period (1850s) and the bushrangers. The theme behind this unit was ‘Heroes and Villains’, which tied in with the SACSAF Essential learning: Identity. We were also using Bloom’s Taxonomy to guide our learning journey. The syllabus required us to analyse and evaluate primary and secondary sources, which tied in with Bloom’s quite nicely.

This activity was very successful, with most of the students engaged, for most of the time. I would recommend that you allow at least two double lessons, possibly three, as many students will make false starts and may need to create multiple drafts.

Some preparation before the students commence is required. It is worth establishing what conventions are in place when constructing a newspaper article and how quotations should be used. A few students merely ‘cut and pasted’ the entirety of their article from the secondary background information and the primary quotes, it would be wise to warn against this.

The program is easy for students to use and the material is accessible to middle school learners. The link to the secondary sources, pictures and background information is not very obvious and students may have to be shown where to find it. Once found, however, this is invaluable; it is accessible and well presented.

The pro-forma is a useful tool for students to construct their articles, as it provides a layout and format for the article. Pictures can be added from the archives, if desired. If students need to save their work, then they will need to copy it to a ‘Word’ document or similar as there is no mechanism for saving work within the program. This is useful, however, as it provides an opportunity for proof-reading and running a ‘spell-check’ as well as honing document handling procedures.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Ned Kelly Learning Object

A year 9 Society and Environment class recently used a Curriculum Corporation learning object called “Patrick Brennan: the legend of Ned Kelly” (This URL is to the SA Education Department BELTS server and requires a login) The object description is as follows:

Play the role of a reporter in 1881. Produce a feature article for a newspaper about the life of Ned Kelly. Review a brief history. Interview his friends and enemies. Gather evidence of social and political influences that affected Ned Kelly’s life. Compile an article that explores the myth and decide whether Ned Kelly was a hero, villain or something in between.

Jonas, student teacher, ran the project and I had the opportunity today of spending a bit of time with the class reflecting on the exercise. Students felt that the

  • audio as well as text resources were useful and that the materials were relatively easy for them to comprehend.

  • exercise was fun

  • scenario was realistic

There were a few technical hurdles to over come

  • couldn't save the report and work on it later (fortunately Jonas was technically savvy and got the students to copy and paste into a word processor to store and spell check)

  • the link to the history and background pages would have been more obvious

We then compared using resources like the Internet and library to get materials and then to produce the report. Students and teacher felt that they were able to produce a report that was of better quality using the learning object. Students stated that the structural support for the report with in the object was very useful.

Conclusion: - Very successful exercise but requires the teacher to be a bit IT savvy.