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

August 21, 2009 at 8:23 am 3 comments

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?

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mark Guzdial  |  August 22, 2009 at 8:54 am

    Barb just sent out a note introducing the book to the mediacomp-teach mailing list — she hits on some issues I missed:

    I am happy to announce that the book Exploring Wonderland: Java Programming using Alice and Media Computation has been published by Pearson. It was written by Wanda Dann, Stephen Cooper, and myself and is a merger of the Learning to Program with Alice (2nd edition) book and the Introduction to Computing and Programming with Java: A Multimedia Approach book.

    We created the book to deal with two problems: teachers who started with Alice were asking how to transition the students to textual programs in Java, and some teachers who started with Java Media Computation reported that beginners had trouble learning the syntax of Java along with the computing concepts. In the new book we introduce concepts in Alice and then reinforce them in Java with Media Computation. We go back and forth between Alice and Java to facilitate the transfer of the information. One advantage of this book over some other books that also transition from Alice to Java is that we stay in a movie making context. The Java programs with Media Computation can be considered the special effects studio for Alice movies. It is where the green screen is replaced with another setting and how the sound effects are added, etc. By the end of the book students can make movies that merge Alice movies with video of live action.

    Steve Cooper taught this merged course at St. Joseph’s Unv in the fall of 2006. His evaluations were the highest he had ever received for a CS1. Three of the female math majors in the course switched majors to computer science. Students from this pilot class did better in CS2 than students in the traditional CS1.

    I also taught this material in my workshops for high school teachers. Alice helped the teachers learn the computing concepts without having problems with the Java syntax. I am also using it now in an Advanced Placement CS Level A course that I am helping teach. It is only week 2 and the students are already creating methods, passing parameters, some have found loops, some have found conditionals, some have even created subclasses. The students are very engaged and are teaching each other what they have learned. They love showing off what they have created.

    Materials for the new book are at http://home.cc.gatech.edu/TeaParty.. Some materials require a key for access (in the For Teachers area). Contact us by email for the key.

    Barb Ericson
    Georgia Tech

  • 2. Rick  |  August 23, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    Again I got all excited reading about a book only to find that it is way out of my price range… 😦

  • 3. Mark Guzdial  |  August 23, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    All the materials are available at the TeaParty site. Amazon has it for $71.55, and there will probably be used copies showing up soon.


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