Using a computer isn't always about playing video games and chatting with friends. You can just as easily create your own video games and programs. They may not be quite as glamorous as the games you buy in the store, but you'll have the satisfaction of doing it yourself. And, you'll be learning important skills in case you want to work with computers in the future. These are some of the best tools for kids and teens to learn to program.
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Scratch is a project out of the MIT Media Lab. It allows users to program their own interactive stories and games with animated content. Scratch is specifically designed to make programming accessible for kids (they recommend ages 8 and up). The website hosts support materials, user-created content and sample code to help you get started. The Media Lab has a license deal with LEGO to allow users to use LEGO characters in their Scratch projects.
and Alice Storytelling
were created at Carnegie Mellon University as a way to introduce complex programming concepts to students. Users can create interactive 3-D environments using 3D objects. Alice is recommended for high school and college, while Alice Storytelling was created to be accessible for a middle school audience. Alice Storytelling was designed to appeal to girls, although it's appropriate for boys as well. Make sure you meet the minimum requirements for Alice, as it is a bit resource intense. Educational materials for Alice are available at www.aliceprogramming.net
. Carnegie Mellon University has entered into a licensing agreement with EA Games for use of Sims 2 figures in Alice 3.0 (expected release in Summer 2009).
Logo is a simple programming language designed for educational settings. Some adults may remember experimenting with Logo as computers were being introduced into schools in the 1980's. At its most basic, users can control a "turtle" on the screen with English-based commands that tell the turtle to move forward or backward and turn right or left. Logo is simple enough for early readers and complex enough for more serious programmers. This site is an interactive version of Logo and it has the basic commands listed on the screen. Actual programming is limited, but it's a nice way to introduce younger kids to the idea of programming. Plus, you can create some cool designs.
The Logo Foundation is the place for all things Logo-related (see Interactive Logo above for information about the Logo programming language). Look under "Logo Products: Software" for a list of various logo programming environments to purchase or download. For ease of use, FMSLogo
is a good choice. MicroWorlds
is also great software, but it's not free.
For role playing fans, RPG Maker allows you to make your own adventures. They won't compare to your XBox or Playstation, but the software is free and easy enough for motivated beginners.
Challenge You is a website designed to help users design their own games and mazes. Using the Shockwave plug-in (if you don't have it installed, you'll need to), the site encourages kids to develope creative and non-violent games with concepts such as treasure hunting and exploration. Visitors can also play the games others have added to the game library.