Want help to teach kids to code? Go Ask Alice
When you own a software development company and you lead a foundation that encourages young
girls to learn to code, you’re often asked about how we can get enough coders among our population. In
fact, it seems that at most dinner parties we attend there’s at least one parent in the room that asks
about how to help teach their children to develop technology skills. One team at Carnegie Mellon
University (CMU) must have been asked the same thing, as they’ve come up with one option. They call it
According to their website, Alice is designed to teach logical and computational thinking skills,
fundamental principles of programming and to be a first exposure to object-oriented programming. It’s
used by teachers but can easily be led by parents-as-teachers as well. Most start at middle school level,
although it has regularly been used with younger children – and even those at university level.
Designed to provide the basics coding and software design, it includes game development but is also
used to expand understanding of both logical and creative thinking. Studies done at CMU found proven
benefits in engaging and retaining diverse and under-served groups in computer science education.
In and of itself, Alice is a fabulous teaching environment. The Alice Project as a whole, however, also
provides supplemental tools and materials for teaching using Alice across a spectrum of ages and
subject matter. They have established an active community, wherein teachers of all sorts interact to
provide ideas and applications and talk through concerns or questions.
Alice starts with a simple drag-and-drop approach, to make the concept of programming less daunting.
Students (and teachers!) progress quickly to develop stories through animation and sound, and
ultimately even build games.
Why is it called Alice?
If you’ve ever had to name a product or a company in the past 20 years, you know how difficult it is to
settle on something that’s not already taken. While many girls could be Alice Smith, there’s only one
alicesmith.com, and acquiring the registered trademark is a complex process.
As the creative folk at CMU tried to express this program, they thought, of course, of storytelling. Who
better to embody the idea of Alice in Lewis Carroll’s The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland. Carroll, a
mathematician, novelist, and photographer, could do intellectually difficult things but also realized the
most powerful thing was to be able to communicate clearly and in an entertaining way. This inspired
CMU’s efforts to make something complex (programming) easy and fun.
As they describe on their site, the name is also a very practical choice. The artwork associated with the
Alice books is now in the public domain, its copyright having lapsed. Also, the name “Alice” has several
other advantages: easy to spell and pronounce, it shows up at the top of alphabetized lists. Great
What does it cost?
It’s so important to offer programming as a key still today that CMU has found a way to make this
project a gift. In other words, it may cost you in time and energy, but there is no financial outlay. It’s
So, no matter the age of your children, go take a look at Alice. There may be a great storyteller inside
your child’s mind, once they have the tools. You’ll find a link to it on our Foundation website, under
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