Archive for the ‘Alice’ tag
Originally posted on Grow a Generation Blog
I took Grow a Generation to a recent Zumbathon fundraiser for the Yellow Ribbon Girls. Several kids meandered over to the table while the moms were working out. I invited them to play around with the Scratch programming window that was opened on the computer. One girl, I think about 10 or 11, became enamored with Scratch, asking how to make the cat she choose as a sprite move around the screen. I showed her a few command codes and encouraged her to experiment. Intent, she focused as hard on that screen as the 200+ moms focused on their workout. When the workout was over, her mom, exhausted and drenched, came to grab her hand and walk off. It took several attempts by me to convince the mom to actually look, and several more attempts to explain the daughter had not been playing a game, rather programming a new one. She had programmed her cat to dance a Zumba workout. Even then, the mom didn’t seem to understand and finally looked closer to let her child explain the code she had put in place. The mom was incredulous, “You mean my daughter actually programmed this?”
I spent this week working with some brilliant young people as they were introduced to Alice 2, a free drag and drop educational programming language that allows students to create computer animations using 3D models. Our theme was Zany Animals and each student was tasked with inventing a creature and animating it with special qualities. J.K. Rowlings inventive imagination supplied fuel for our creativity while we looked at the etymology and origins of some great Harry Potter creatures (Basilisk, Phoenix, Hippogriff, Boggart, and Thestrals). The Discovery channel demonstrated some very real incredible animals and provided a template for our short nature documentaries. We discussed the ethics of animal experimentation and watch some videos of the current status on cloning, using animal to create pharmaceuticals and synthetic proteins, and grafting technology onto animals.
One of the uncles (a young man in his late twenties) stopped mid-week and looked around at the fun we were having. He shared his remembrances of computer science class in high school, a black screen with detailed code he could not make work. He had walked away from high school convinced Programming was something he could not learn.
His comments, alongside the mom’s at the Zumbathon, have me wondering about marketing. Only five students enrolled in the camp. While other factors played a part, how do I advertise to a generation who cannot conceive a child can begin to write code (and have fun doing it)? How can we work to allow not just the technology teacher and the media lab director, but also the classroom teacher encourage computer programming and the creation of digital artifacts in the creative expression of their students.
I have had to journey my own learning curve this summer. I am taking the CS2N Summer of Learning class in ROBOTC. The Alice 2 tutorials I did in class were adapted from the CS2N Introduction to Alice class that is available free on their website. I learned alongside the kids and eagerly accepted the wonderful help of two area middle school STEM heroes who run their own programming classes in the homeschool network – Fiona and Joseph Chaney.
The camp was such fun. The kids learned to select an environment and create an establishing shot for their animals habitat. They then created their creature by selecting the object of an animal and changing colors, textures, ear size, nose size, arm length, etc. They started animating their animal to demonstrate its incredible abilities and changing camera angles to tell a story. Finally, they added sound and narration to their animation. All of this was done while learning basic computer care, where to save and recover files, and how to deal with constant messaging of “Alice thinks you made an error” and carry on through frustration. The kids will be using the animations they created to enter the CS2N Nature Doc-u-mentary competition.
Two learning leap moments stood out. The first was a child who had originally placed two dragons into the scene and they create a ‘method’ called fight. He dragged the method into the editor box and couldn’t figure out why they weren’t fighting. He had not yet connected the need to write the script for each movement of each dragon to create the method. The rest of his week was spent focused on getting a dragon to flap his wings. It tied in beautifully with a video on the last day about how computer animation team created the Thestral flight scene in the Harry Potter Order of the Phoenix movie. This boy was breaking down the abstract concepts of ‘fight’ and ‘fly’ and beginning to think in terms of modeling, algorithms, and sequence.
Another moment came when a student wanted to have a turtle disappear into his shell. I found a brief tutorial online (the Alice tutorials are out there, but they are not as easy to find as the Scratch tutorials) and he was able to follow it. When I checked back in to examine his code, I was so impressed how he could walk me through the control structures he put in place for sequence, conditions, and parallel execution!
High points included sitting outside on a gorgeous rain free day in the shade under the tree at a picnic table at Baden Academy as students typed away on their netbooks creating their animals, inspired by the new surroundings and summer breeze. Another was the look of such pride as parents and grandparents applauded to see the student creations on the screen in the lab at the end of the week.
Embarrassment of the week – despite a Ph.D., I could not visualize the need to invert the image on the iron on for the shirts – so if you see a smiling child wearing a shirt with a picture of their Zany Animal and all the text is backwards, know that you are looking yet another erratum of Dr. Ellen.
I close with a recent Facebook post from a mom: “John made this video in his computer class this past week. It is short but he has never done anything like this in the past. Wish the class was longer than five days. He loved it.”
Enjoy the kids work – and don’t forget to add your comments!
FireBall the Devious Hamster Crook
This summer students have the opportunity to learn how to program robots, design games, animate stories, and earn a chance to win over $10,000 in prizes and scholarships! The Robotics Summer of Learning program hopes to effectively increase students’ interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) related fields. The program is hosted online at the Computer Science Student Network.
The Summer of Learning initiative is sponsored by Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy – an educational outreach of Carnegie Mellon University and a part of the university’s world-renowned Robotics Institute. The Robotics Academy mission is to develop educational tools and resources to use the motivational effects of robotics to excite students and teachers about science and technology.
The Computer Science Student Network (CS2N) is a collaborative research project between Carnegie Mellon University (including the Robotics Academy) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) designed to increase the number of students pursuing advanced Computer Science and STEM degrees. CS2N is an online network for students and teachers to connect together and use engaging activities designed to teach how to program robots, animations, web pages, and games.
CS2N also includes tools for teachers/educators to create their own individual groups for students to join. Using the “groups” feature, teachers can track their students’ progress through every activity offered on the site. All of CS2N’s learning activities are designed to align with national educational standards.
Check out all the great features and challenges that will be offered through the Robotics Summer of Learning…
The Robotics Summer of Learning will offer students the opportunity to program a variety of robots in deep space, on a tropical island, and a VEX or FTC game board. The robots are programmed in ROBOTC, a programming language for LEGO, VEX and Arduino robots. Beginning ROBOTC users are able to utilize simple Natural Language commands like forward, reverse, and pointTurn at the introductory level and then migrate to full C-Programming to learn advanced computer science concepts like recursion, pointers, multitasking/threading, and multi-agent communications.
Students will program the virtual robots using the ROBOTC language and ROBOTC’s Robot Virtual Worlds (RVW) software, an interactive educational video game software that allows every student to experience the same benefits of learning robotics and programming. RVW tracks and stores student’s progress, through CS2N, as they solve different levels in each World. After successfully completing a World, students earn a badge that documents their achievements. At the end of the summer, students will have the opportunity to take an exam that will earn them a Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy programming certification, which can be included in the student’s academic portfolio.
Introductory programming lessons are taught in the tropical themed Palm Island, one of three virtual environments in Robot Virtual Worlds. Once students learn the basics in their first mission, they are then challenged to complete missions on Planet H99 in deep space, and underwater in the Ruins of Atlantis. The final challenge is a national robot programming competition that will include over ten thousand dollars in scholarships and prizes. Two new “programming only” robotics game have been developed specifically for the Robotics Summer of Learning programming competition, which take advantage of current VEX and FTC games in Robot Virtual Worlds. The games are played by autonomously programming your robot to place objects into scoring positions as quickly as possible.
Animation programming languages, such as Scratch and Alice, make it easy for students to create video stories, animations, games, music, and art. By using storytelling and animation as a motivator, students learn the importance of the design process while using and learning interactive programming software.
Our Robotics Summer of Learning Animation Challenge is called Nature Doc-u-mentary. This challenge asks students to write a creative narrative and make an animated documentary using either Scratch, SAM Animation, or Alice 2.0.
Designing a digital game allows students the opportunity to creatively brainstorm ideas, create 3D objects to import into the game board, learn how to program in order to test the success of the game, and challenge them to think of ways to advance and optimize the gameplay. Robot Virtual Worlds comes with two great tools, the Level Builder and the Model Importer. The Level Builder uses a 12-inch by 12-inch board and our “desktop” models to create their very own Robot Virtual World. The Model Importer allows students to import their own 3D models into Level Builder to take their game to the next level. Students can use both tools while designing their own game board for a virtual robot to successfully complete!
Our Robotics Summer of Learning Animation Challenge is called Beacons and Barriers. This challenge will have users focus on creating levels for a virtual robot to navigate through. They will use the Model Importer, included in Robot Virtual Worlds, to create objects to serve as checkpoints and obstacles.
The Robotics Summer of Learning Program is excited for the opportunity to advance students’ interests in STEM and advanced their programming skillsets! Software and training will be provided for free throughout the summer. Students will have 24/7 access to the online course materials, as well as professional support from developers of the software and curriculum. There will be over $10,000 in prizes available to participants in the challenges, including free software, robot kits, and college scholarships. The Robotics Summer of Learning kicks off on June 1 and runs to September 1, 2013.
Also offered during the summer are our Professional Development courses. These courses provide teachers and coaches with a solid foundation for robot programming in the respective languages, and experience in troubleshooting common student mistakes. It also focuses on identifying and extracting academic value from the naturally occurring STEM situations encountered in robotics explorations. Classes are available on-site or online.