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View Full Version : First year at Alice - Observations


mikerd
06-20-2007, 08:49 PM
I'm just finishing my first year of teaching Alice to 10th graders. The experience has been both fun and frustrating for both me and my students. I think they were quite sick of it by the end of it. While part of that may be from me still learning the intricacies of Alice, I think a big part is also the limitations of Alice to create complex worlds easily. The drag and drop interface becomes cumbersome when trying to populate a world with 200 icosahedrons.

ALICE FRUSTRATIONS
From a teaching perspective, the most cumbersome part of Alice is its unreliability and lack of decent error messages. Most of my students have had crashed, freezes, random persistent error messages that go away when restarted, problems with sound files causing Alice to get buggy, memory leaks, etc.

FINAL PROJECTS
For final projects, I asked students to create something interactive. Students chose assignments from Spyro-type games, to Piano-Hero (similar to Guitar Hero), to a 3D RPG game, to a zelda-type game, to a dance face off, to a duck-hunt. In all of these cases as soon as you added to the complexity (100's of objects, many simultaneous actions, collision detection) Alice started to buckle. [And we're running pretty state-of-the-art machines]. Again some of this may be not in Alice itself, but in a teacher who is also new to it. However, it is in an important observation for someone considering tecahing it. For the record, about half of the projects finished with serious flaws. The Spyro-game was extremely laggy because of the collision detection with 200 gems. The piano-hero would not run after the student entered in all his sounds. The duck-hunt wasn't happy with 5 ducks all moving randomly at the same time.

STUDENT LEARNING AND TRANSFER TO A REAL LANGUAGE
Students were able to learn the environment *fast* which was good, and couldn't believe they were programming. What I was really disappointed with was the lack of transfer there was when I started teaching them a 'real' language. They couldn't connect the drag-and-drop loops/ifs/fors with the need to type it out with all of the intricacies of brackets, semicolons, caps, etc. I have to work harder next year on emphasizing the syntax in Alice. Perhaps force the view to Java and pull it apart.

SUMMARY
I'm still a fan of Alice, even though my students were complaining by the end of the year. My assignment over the summer is to become more familiar with its bugs and intricacies so that I can prepare/warn students ahead of time. I also want to make Alice a better stepping stone than it proved to be this year.

lanceA
06-22-2007, 01:43 PM
mikerd:
I can sympathize with some of your frustrations but I would encourage you to continue to learn the “intricacies of Alice” as well as 3D animation.

I introduce my 9th graders to ALICE each year and while we stumble through learning the differences between 2D and 3D animation I am spending this summer reviewing the tutorial Dick Baldwin has placed on the net (see other posts for the web site).

You mentioned how one of your students attempted to mimic the Guitar Hero game (Piano-Hero) unsuccessfully. Do a search on this site for Guitar Hero and you will find an example of this game written with ALICE – HOWEVER, I recommend you have a minimum of 2 gig memory in your machine when you run it.

Graphics are memory intensive and ALICE also is very sloppy about cleaning up after itself , i.e., freeing up memory. At the end of each class this year I had my students reboot their machines to free up the memory.

I have found that ALICE is the “perfect” tool to teach young people the basics of programming. Don’t let them think they can create a program with 100 objects interacting simultaneously without ensuring that their machines have “billions of megabytes of memory”. Graphical programs are memory intensive.

My 9’s learned so much from ALICE this year that they out grew it and asked for more progressive programming projects. We finished the year with Karel J Robot.

The key, in my humble opinion is to keep the projects simple and use ALICE to teach the basics. Do not attempt to rewrite FINAL FANTASY 4 using ALICE – use it to teach.

I have noticed countless young people joing this network and they all want to use ALICE to write the next version of Command & Conquer. That's not what ALICE is about. Good luck.

PS – I just got my numbers for next year in the 9th grade and they increased 56%. Don’t give up. Feel free to contact me off-line if you wish to discuss this further.