Each month I receive a newsletter from the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology. This month’s newsletter mentioned Ada Lovelace Day. Although I am not a blogger, (in fact this is my first blog entry ever) I immediately sent an email out to the CofC students and staff and took a pledge to participate. I was excited because I knew exactly whom I had in mind to write about…
Recently I read the book, The Last Lecture, written by Randy Pausch. I received it as a birthday gift from my friend, Ellie, who knows that I love to read and thought it was perfect for me because of Pausch’s computer science background and especially because he was one of the originators of the Alice Project at Carnegie Mellon. Ellie is aware of my obsession with Alice because we baby-sit the same six-year-old girl that I have gotten hooked on Alice. She constantly begs to play that “Alice computer learning game thing” whenever we go over. Although she still needs a little help with it, she has so much fun and even learns concepts such as loops with my help.
I think our department should require all professors and students to read
The Last Lecture. Everyone can benefit from Randy Pausch’s story and advice whether they are young or old, a professional or a student, a computer scientist or not. I always circle, underline, highlight, and make notes in all of my books. Usually there is a note every couple of pages… a string of words that stands out to me or maybe a thought that I like. In my copy of the last lecture, I have marked up almost every page! Chapter 27, The Promise Land, is only three pages long, and on those pages I have a total of 8 stars, 1 heart, 1 circle, 7 underlines, and 2 strings of sentences highlighted. This chapter is about the Alice program, which for me was so exciting! No, Alice is not my woman in technology pick for Ada Lovelace day… it is the only other female mentioned in this chapter, Caitlin Kelleher.
I immediately identified with and was greatly inspired by Kelleher. Even after reading such a touching and inspiring book, I was just as equally inspired by this woman mentioned just briefly.
After thinking back on my experience in computer science, I wish I had had the opportunity to use a program such as
Storytelling Alice that Kelleher created as part of her doctoral work in Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon. She has described Storytelling Alice as “a programming environment that introduces middle school girls to computer programming as a means to the end of creating 3D animated stories,” in the paper Storytelling Alice Motivates Middle School Girls to Learn Computer Programming. Dr. Kelleher is currently a professor at Washington University in St. Louis.
My first computer class was not until my sophomore year of college. Needless to say I felt inferior to the other boys in the class, some who have been programming since they were about six years old (Hopefully when the girl I baby sit is a CS major, she will be able to say the same thing because of me!). There was a computer programming class at our high school, but I wasn’t even aware of it until after I graduated. Even if I had known about it, as I’ve heard, there’s nothing really exciting about it. Looking back at middle school, we were not required to take any technology classes and I doubt there were any offered. In elementary school, my favorite time of the week was when we went to the computer lab where we created stories and made books using a program where you pick your background and stamp your characters and objects on top. Afterwards, we would write text in the bottom section to create the story and then print it, bind it, color it, and take it home to our parents. Because of my past and my interests, you can see why I am obsessed with the idea of Alice and Alice Storytelling. It’s so similar to what I enjoyed so much as a child but takes it a step further allowing animation and actually teaching you CS concepts!
I have a younger sister in high school now, so I can see how obviously technology is being incorporated into the classroom more and more each day. Although this is great, I have still not seen a change in actively motivating students to take actual programming classes. I’m so grateful for Caitlin Kelleher’s work and progress in this area because it gives girls and even boys a gateway into the field of technology and a new way of thinking. The only reason I was able to realize I liked computer science was because my mom (also in the computer science field) mentioned trying out a class to see if I liked it. If it weren’t for her I wouldn’t have realized I enjoyed it so much; it never really crossed my mind as an option. I don’t want this to be a reason that girls aren’t interested in technology… just because they don’t know or think about computer science as an option, and Kelleher has taken strides in avoiding this from happening. Computer science is fun, and we just need girls to see that at an earlier age and to show them that it is an option! As Randy Pausch stated, “Through Alice, millions of kids are going to have incredible fun while learning something hard. They’ll develop skills that could help them achieve their dreams.”
So thank you Caitlin Kelleher, for whom this post is dedicated, because your vision is inspiring others and allowing them to dream.
Link to the Ada Lovelace Day pledge: