Programmable Toys and their Re-Presentation as Computer Programs: An Introduction to Programming Paradigms

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Any medium of expression can re-present the world through its limited pallet – painting through color, poetry through sounds of words, or prose through rhetoric. However, only computer programs re-present the world through action. This workshop introduces the procedural and object oriented programming paradigms through commercial programmable toys, then develops their re-presentation in the Alice programming environment. Toy manufacturers have used computer chips in their toys to give interactivity and control. These toys recapitulate the trends in computing and reflect the changes in paradigms for writing computer programs that model, or re-present, the real world as a computer program. Reflecting on how one plays with these toys lowers barriers to understanding fundamental concepts of computer programming. To supplement play with toys, this workshop uses Alice, a 3D programming environment developed at Carnegie Mellon University, funded by the National Science Foundation, and distributed without charge. Alice is designed to build virtual worlds that can be either animations or games without the cognitive burdens of the syntax and procedures of a traditional programming language. The workshop has four parts. The first section, with attendee participation, uses Toy Max MightyMos to demonstrate procedural programming. The activities of the first section are then re-presented as computer animations in Alice, written by attendees. This computer program follows a largely procedural paradigm, but introduces object-oriented programming (OOP) concepts. The third section builds on the OOP paradigm by introducing event control using a New Ray IR controlled cars. The final section revisits Alice and extends the original worlds to include event handling, as demonstrated by the activities with the toy car. Participants should bring laptops and will receive a CD with all software and notes.


Keywords: Animation, Games, Computer Programming
Stream: Technology in Education
Presentation Type: Workshop Presentation in English
Paper: Programmable Toys and their Re-Presentation as Computer Programs


Dr. W. Brett McKenzie

Associate Professor CIS, Gabelli School of Business, Roger Williams University
Bristol, Rhode Island, USA

Dr. W. Brett McKenzie, a graduate of the US Naval Academy, has worked in technology in education since the mid-eighties after studying at Harvard and completing his doctorate at Clark University. He introduced ALICE at Roger Williams University and has presented at NSF Workshops on ALICE at Haverford College, PA, Duke University, NC, and for the NSF sponsored NCTT conferences. His research interests are in computing as a means of expression, especially in the current media rich environment.

Ref: T08P0436