Posts tagged ‘Alice’

New GaComputes Reports for CE21

Next week is the first NSF Computing Education for the 21st Century Community Meeting, in New Orleans, organized and hosted by NCWIT.  In preparing for that meeting, we gathered some of our evaluation work into handouts, and now we’ve uploaded them to our website.  Some of the new things that might be of interest to readers here (Warning: Most of these are technical reports, not peer-reviewed publications!  The technical reports summarize analyses — lots of data, little explanation):

January 27, 2011 at 9:45 am Leave a comment

Dancing and singing humans, even more than robots

I finished up the “Georgia Computes!” report on our first four years just before the holidays.  One of the evaluation studies we did was to look at the contexts that we use in our Girl Scout workshops and how those contexts influenced student attitude change.  We asked students before and after each event (for everything — summer camps, YWCA afterschool activities, as well as Girl Scout camps) whether they agreed or disagreed with seven statements:

1. Computers are fun
2. Programming is hard
3. Girls can do computing
4. Boys can do computing
5. Computer jobs are boring.
6. I am good at computing.
7. I like computing
8. I know more than my friends about computers.

In the one study, we looked at a set of workshops over a multi-year period with over 600 Girl Scouts involved.  We looked at where we got changes in attitudes, and computed the effect size. Here’s one of the tables of results:

This table shows the number of Girl Scout workshops that we had with each context, the number of large/medium/small effect sizes that we saw, and total number of effects. What we see here is that Pico Crickets and Scratch have the most effect: The most large effects, and the most overall effects.  We’ve done a lot of different things in our robotics workshops, from following mazes to singing-and-dancing robots.  Lego Mindstorm workshops (seven different ones, using a variety of activities) had only small effects on changes in attitudes.  This isn’t saying that Lego robotics can’t be an effective context for making more positive Girl Scouts’ attitudes about computing.  We are finding that it is harder than with these other contexts.  I hope that someone replicates this study with even larger n, showing an approach to using Lego Robotics with Girl Scouts that leads to many large effects on attitudes.  We just haven’t been able to find that yet.

Over the Christmas holiday, our extended family has been playing a bunch of great Wii games, including karaoke, “Just Dance,” and various Rock Band games.  Barb and I discovered this morning that we were thinking the same thing about these games: What a great context for learning programming! Barb was noting that “Just Dance” uses a small icon to represent (abstraction!) a particular dance move, which is then repeated several times (iteration!).  I was thinking about the great computing and media ideas required to build this kind of software: From digital signal processing to detect pitch, to the ubiquitous computing ideas involved in sensing the world (e.g., the accelerometers used to detect body motion in the dance games).  We could use an inquiry-based approach to teach computing through these (amazingly popular!) games, e.g., “How do you think Rock Band figures out if you’re singing the right pitch?” and “How accurate do you think the motion detection in ‘Just Dance’ is?”

This is how we should identify contexts to use in contextualized computing education.  What are the application areas that students find intriguing?  What computing ideas do we want to teach and can be taught with those areas?  Even though we may like robotics, if the student audiences that we’re seeking don’t, then it’s not a great context.  There are many great contexts out there, many that are even more popular and even more powerful than what we use today.  People like to sing and dance, even more than making robots sing and dance.  Learning to build software to support that sounds like a great context.

December 31, 2010 at 8:26 am 7 comments

CMU’s CS Education Day

CMU has quite a star-studded CS Education going on today —  Jan Cuny of NSF’s BPC and CE21 programs is the keynote speaker, and includes themes of Alice, Running on Empty, Computational Thinking (from Jeanette Wing), and the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center.  Links to lots of good resources on the page.

December 8, 2010 at 10:49 am Leave a comment

Mailing list for Alice Educators

Don Slater of CMU just posted this to SIGCSE-Members:

A mailing list for Alice educators is now available. On the alice-teachers list, educators will be able to ask questions, post ideas and nifty assignments, and support other members of the Alice teaching community. The list will be moderated to make sure that only those posts that are of interest to the Alice educational community will be distributed.

The following link will take you to a web page with more information about the list. This list is by subscription only but at NO COST and with NO SPAM. Please complete the form at this ListServ website to request a subscription to the list.

October 11, 2010 at 11:08 am Leave a comment

Multi-lingual Pedagogical Programming Environment: Pyjama

Doug Blank at Bryn Mawr is looking for people to try out and help with his new editor/shell IDE, Pyjama ( Pyjama is built on Microsoft’s Dynamic Language Runtime. Languages in Pyjama can share data, functions, and objects.

Pyjama currently comes with support for four languages: Python, Ruby, Scheme, and Dinah (“a new language prototype similar to the Alice interface”).  There are YouTube videos available about using the shell and the editor. The current tool is written in IronPython with Gtk# for the GUI.  It runs under Mono for Mac and Linux.

Doug is looking for folks to help out with Pyjama.  Explicitly, he wants this to be an educator’s tool, written for and by educators. Doug told me about his reasons for Pyjama in an email:

The larger goal of Pyjama is to make it so that educators can easily switch between programming languages, or switch contexts and topics. For example, if you would like to do Alice 3D programming, but you would rather do it in Python, then you could. Or if you would like to use an Alice interface to control robots, then you could. In addition, if you would like to create a new language (or language environment, like Processing or Scratch) then you could. Or if you would like to create a new module (say in Scientific Methods) then that module will instantly be available to all of the Pyjama languages.

We (teachers) need to be in control of everything in the academic environment… If Java isn’t the right language, let’s build our own. If IDLE and Python doesn’t work just right, let’s alter it to suit our needs, not just use what is available.

September 20, 2010 at 1:12 pm Leave a comment

Update on the AP CS Pilots

Lien Diaz of the College Board kindly gave me permission to share this information on the five pilot tests of the AP CS: Principles classes.

September 17, 2010 at 3:56 pm 2 comments

APCS Students can do Media Comp (and Alice) and Succeed

In the five workshops (which feels like a larger number than it sounds) that I ran this summer, I included some of the Exploring Wonderland book that Wanda Dann, Steve Cooper, and Barb Ericson wrote about learning AP CS through Alice and Media Computation.  Over half of the attendees from my workshops this summer were high school computer science teachers.  Overwhelmingly, the response that I got from those teachers was, “This is nice stuff.  Maybe I could use it in my earlier class (like Computing in the Modern World).  But I wouldn’t use it in AP.  That would take too much time away from the important stuff in AP.”

Of course, this infuriated Barb.  They designed the book to motivate students to dig into the AP content!  It just so happened that she got her chance to try out her design this last year. A local high school asked the College of Computing for last-minute help with their AP CS course.  A teacher who didn’t know AP (or CS, or even Java) was tasked with running the course, and he was smart enough to know that he needed help.  The school called the College, and the College asked Barb. Barb came in twice a week, wrote the lessons, and generally oversaw the content of the course.  Since she had just finished Wonderland, that was the easiest thing for her to teach.

She just sent me her scores.

7 get a 5 (4 males and 3 females)
4 get a 4 (3 males and 1 female)
2 get a 3 (1 male and 1 female) (a 3, 4, or 5 is passing)
4 get a 2 (3 males and 1 female)
and 13 get a 1 (9 males and 4 females)

While the gender scores were quite strong (e.g., more girls passed than failed), the under-represented minority minorities weren’t quite as strong.  All of her African-American students got 1’s.  However, one of her Hispanic students took one of those 5’s.

Those are really good scores.  Yes, most kids who took the test didn’t pass — the AP is hard, and that is the way it goes. What it shows is that students can succeed at the AP, even if you “waste” time with all that Alice, and Media, and motivation stuff.  This isn’t a study, much less publishable. It’s only the results from one course.  But it’s an existence proof.

July 18, 2010 at 4:54 pm 6 comments

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