The Wonder of Alice Programming

I decided a couple weeks ago to take a detour in my Programming I class.  I had a feeling my usual curriculum was going to lose several of my students.  Programming I is an elective and I hate losing students in an elective, especially if they are willing to do a little work.  Those several included the three girls in the class and a boy I felt had the ability but not the spark to get going.  I needed something in a different direction that might stir some interest.  In Programming I I am not attempting to generate programmers, I am try to generate interest in computers and what they can do.  In Programming I I kind of cater to the crowd.

I have a pretty mixed bag of students in this class, which is not unusual but this time it is a weirder mixture than usual.  I have a kid who does not speak in class (just not a talker) but can do some very incredible work, if he would work that is.  I have one young lady who hates school work of any kind, yet has an extremely sharp mind when directly asked a question.  I have the usual group who want me to tell them how to do everything and get upset when I do not, yet when I say “look it up” seem to find an answer in minutes.  So the usual, normal weird class.  In attempt to get some of the weirder ones (“weird” to me is not a derogatory term, it just means I have not quite figured out how they think) involved in programming I have decided to go to Alice.  As a programming language I have never been impressed with Alice.  Not because it is not a good language, but simply because it was not my cup of tea.  I tried Alice a few years ago with some less than optimal computers.  It gave me a bit of a bad taste for Alice and I have not used it since.  With this group of students I am trying to break out of what they were starting to conceive of programming to be.  Alice could do the trick.  The kids that like programming do not care what the language is; they just take off and go.  The kids that are not interested in programming at all are looking at Alice seeing story telling instead of programming.  My “I hate school” girl says today “Hey, this thing is three dimensional!”  This is on the third day of working with Alice.  At the moment I just have them writing a story/scene they want to build.  I burdened one girl with the last scene of Hamlet; the sword fight and poisoning scene.  I promised her extra credit if she can do a decent job of it.  The rest of the class was allowed to choose their own scene.  A very diverse collection.

Alice is a perfectly good language for a Programming I class.  It has the concepts, the lingo and the need for problem solving.  Using it on a computer with more that 256K of RAM definitely improves how well it operates.  There are quite a few tutorials and “how to” videos available compared to the 5 or 6 years ago when I tried this in a middle school class.  I still would not want to spend a whole semester with it, it simply does not appeal to me, but to take kids in a different direction and maybe spark some different thinking kids it just might be the ticket.

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