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DURHAM, N.C. – In today’s world, Alice is not in Wonderland; instead, she can be found online.

designed to get middle and high school students interested in the field of computer science, which has seen an estimated 70 percent drop in students majoring in that subject since 2000.

Susan Rodger, an associate professor of the practice of computer science at Duke University, is leading an effort this summer to teach Alice to 33 North Carolina teachers and 32 students.

“People know what a doctor is and what he does,” said Rodger. “People don’t even know what computer science is. Alice can change all that.”

Alice takes a new tack on teaching introductory programming concepts through inventive 3D programming. For instance, Alice makes it easy to create animation for telling a story, to create an interactive game or to share a video on the web. The basic goal is to demonstrate how programming works and how it can be fun.

Alice was introduced to some middle school girls at the Duke Females Excelling More in Math, Engineering and Science Event in March. Each group had about 45 minutes to program. Some of the girls created snowmen characters that moved and talked with thought bubbles. They were so in awe that it was “hard to get them back on task,” said Rodger.

Rodger, in conjunction with Carnegie Mellon University and with support from the National Science Foundation and IBM, held a two-week Alice Workshop at Duke for state middle and high school teachers earlier this summer. The workshop showed teachers the fundamentals of Alice and how to get started.

In July (July 7-11 and July 14-18), two week-long workshops focus on the teachers introducing Alice to middle school students.

Some of the teachers who participated in the earlier workshop already have plans for Alice in their classrooms. “I plan to use Alice as a game review tool for math and social studies,” said Rachel Nicole Rodriguez, a middle school teacher at Morehead Montessori in Durham.

Rodriguez, who has never taught programming before, believes Alice might spark interest in computer science. “The animations alone should keep the students actively engaged,” she said.

Angela Taylor, an English teacher at Hillside High School in Durham, says she may use Alice in another way. “I want to use Alice to have the students create a story board and with the animations in the program to bring the story to life.” Taylor, who has some programming experience, added: “Alice can make learning how to program more fun … I like it.”

According to Rodger, interest in computer science is declining, especially among women and minorities. Nationwide, enrollments are down so low that several universities, including Duke, are implementing new programs designed to attract more women and minorities into computer science. Duke recently began offering a one-year program in computer science for non-majors, in addition to the computer science major that the university already had in place.

“The main objective is to get Alice into the public schools to raise the interest in the computer science field,” said Rodger. “The field could use some diversity and this could be a great start.”

Pending approval from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, it is Rodger’s hope that Alice will be in classrooms by the next school year. Representatives from the department saw Alice in action during the June workshops.

“We are very excited to have them come in and see Alice at work,” said Rodger. “I think they were very impressed.”

Alice is available for free as a public service through Carnegie Mellon University and the National Science Foundation. It is available for download at