Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Blog Cruise - Our Favorite Free Resource - Alice 3D Programming

This week's cruise asks - What is your favorite free or cheap homeschool resource?

There are TONS of free or cheap resources out there.  Of course, my favorite resource is simply – the internet.   What a wealth of information right at the tip of my and my student’s fingers.  We can find information, exercises, lessons, supplements, etc. on just about everything. 

However, if I had to narrow it down to one favorite resource, for right now – it’s Alice.  Alice is a 3D programming environment created by Carnegie Melon at that is free to download and use.  It comes with some tutorials, but, a quick scan of the internet will lead you to Duke University’s site where there are numerous additional tutorials to help your student understand basic programming. 

I don’t think I have to tell you that we are living in a technological world.  Even if your student isn’t interested in being a great programmer one day, he/she should understand the basics of what goes into programming all those games and web sites they enjoy.  Additionally, using Alice helps your student understand basic logic in a very dynamic way.  If this, then that – if this, else that – loop this – do together – do in order.  Learning how to group actions to get desired results is not only an experience in programming, but an experience in basic ordinal logic.  
I have found that kids really enjoy Alice.  Unlike basic coding where you write a bunch of lines of script and then hope they work, Alice is visual and dynamic.  There is a drag and drop approach to the coding that can automatically be tested with each step.  Student automatically see if they have achieved their desired result or not.

I am currently teaching Alice 2.2 at our local co-op.  It’s been fun for both me and the students.  They get really excited seeing their programs leap into action.  When we finish the course, they will have not only learned basic programming, but will have learned how to program a story using a storyboard, create a dynamic quiz, and develop a basic game.

Note: there are several downloads on the Alice site.  Alice Storytelling is a brief tutorial for PC users.  Alice 2.2 is the most recent stable version and includes several “getting started” tutorials.  Alice 3 will include java integration, but, is still in beta and not considered ready for regular use.  I recommend starting with Alice 2.2 for middle or high school aged students.
No, your student won’t be ready for MIT once they complete Alice, but they will have a sense of what programming is about.  This taste just might lead to a college computer science major, or it just might lead to a better understanding of the computing environment and logic.  It’s a win-win.

Here are some additional free resources that can be used with Alice:

If you have children interested in computers, I can’t recommend this highly enough.  The Duke University tutorials are easy enough for a parent and student to walk through.
If you have questions about how I approached using Alice for a co-op or the order to use tutorials with your student, just leave me a comment and I’ll happily share my experiences.

To see what other TOS Homeschool Crew Members consider their favorite free/cheap homeschooling resource – click here.

1 comment:

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