Monday, November 5, 2007

Alice as a learning tool

by Ed Latham

A good friend of mine totally ruined my level of productivity for most of the day today. Becky Ranks offered up link to Randy Pausch's "Last Lecture". I am so happy that she shared this wonderful link with me. I believe everyone should see what this impressive man has to say. We can all accomplish so much if we can live in such a positive mind set every day.

As I was looking for a way to download his video, I stumbled across the original lecture he presented at Carnegie Mellon. I watched the entire thing and heard him reference a great tool for teaching everyone, even young girls, the art of programming. Pausch was part of the team that developed Alice. Alice is a three dimensional world building program that allows anyone to program without having to know all the nasty technical stuff that the computer geeks need to know. I have always loved programming and feel that many of our students today can learn everything in Algebra, Geometry, AlgebraII and all the other stuffy mathematics courses that students may be forced to endure. It has been my experience that students love to program if you give them the right tools and worthwhile ventures. So I spent most of my morning looking into Alice and I have to say I was impressed and will be downloading that program shortly. You may want to look at their introduction videos here. (2 videos here)

There are many tools out there that can help our kids learn math through programming and I have explored many of them. Each one offers students a simple way to experience the joys of programming without the thousands of hours of frustration that was necessary in the past. What used to take months of programming lists of numbers to get a simple ball bouncing on a screen can now be done by dragging and dropping, a few clicks and choosing some properties. All that power is not available in just minutes and even your grandmother can do it (sorry if your grandma is a computer engineer). Best of all the programs are all free! Yes, you heard me right, free. So much fuss in education over money and lack of resources and yet we have these gems right there for the taking. Most of them have been developed by major universities and educational foundations with the intent of making programming easy and rich. Abstract operations in Algebra finally have concrete examples and a purpose for students when students dive into programming.

I am inspired by Dr. Pausch speech and very interested in exploring Alice some more so I have to get going before my entire day is shot. If there are teachers out there looking for support in bringing programming into mathematics classes please invite me to your discussions. I currently work with teachers and do not have a math class of my own to work with, but I would love the opportunity to work with and support teachers that are in the field that are interested in using these powerful tools in their classrooms.

I have included a list of the programming languages I have used with students and had great success (Alice makes the list even though I have not tried it yet). All of these are free and they run on all operating systems. I have put them in order of easiest/best/ones I like best when working with students.

StarLogoTNG which allows 3d programming using only puzzle like pieces that drag, drop, and click together
Game Maker from Yo Yo Games - an incredible collection of easy to use tools
Squeak, a really neat mutation of Smalltalk programming that puts old Logo to shame
Netlogo - not quite as graphically oriented as the others but is a powerful simulation language that is easy to use.

Currently looking into:
Alice - Looking into it now, but EA Games just donated tons of graphics to help educators and students to succeed in programming

If you teach math and want some way to reach your students that are not successful, please find the time to look at some of these options. If you have looked into these tools and would like to post your experiences, I would love to hear from you as well and look forward to your posts!

I may not have finished up the webpages and hum-drum stuff I needed to get done today, but Becky has helped me get motivated in life and introduced me to a cool tool. Thank you my friend!

1 comment:

Jim Burke said...