Archive for August 21, 2009

“Exploring Wonderland” is out: Encouraging transfer between Alice and Java

I just got my copy of the new book by Wanda Dann, Steve Cooper, and Barbara Ericson “Exploring Wonderland.”


I’m really interested to see how this book works in classrooms.  As the title suggests, the book integrates Alice and Java programming with Media Computation.  It’s not 1/2 Alice and 1/2 Java.  Rather, both are integrated around the context of storytelling.  You might use Media Computation to create grayscale images or sounds at different frequencies or echoes in your Alice stories.  Or you might use Alice to create perfect greenscreens for doing chromakey in Media Computation.  Students can put themselves into an Alice movie, or take Alice characters and have them interact with live action video. This isn’t Java to learn Java.  This is Java as the special effects studio for Alice storytelling.

The order of the book goes back-and-forth.  First, students use Alice to learn about variables and objects, then they do the same thing with turtles in Java.  Back to Alice for iteration and conditionals, then see the same things in Java.  There’s a real effort to encourage transfer between the two languages.

That explicit effort to transfer within a context is what makes this effort so interesting.  Efforts that I’ve seen at Georgia Tech to teach two languages in a first course have failed.  It’s just too hard to learn any one thing well to get it to transfer.  The advantage of a contextualized computing education approach is that it encourages higher time-on-task — we know from studies at multiple schools with multiple contexts that students will do more with the context if they buy into it, if they’re engaged.  Will storytelling work to get students to engage so that the first language is learned well enough to transfer to the second?  And if so, do the students end up learning more because they have this deeper, transferrable knowledge?

August 21, 2009 at 8:23 am 3 comments

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