We will present an overview and in-progress report of a QNRF-sponsored project for research in the effects of using program visualization in teaching and learning computational thinking. Computers and computing have made possible incredible leaps of innovation and imagination in solving critical problems such as finding a cure for diseases, predicting a hurricane's path, or landing a spaceship on the moon. The modern economic conditions of countries around the world are increasingly related to their ability to adapt to the digital revolution. This, in turn, drives the need for educated individuals who can bring the power of computing-supported problem solving to an increasingly expanded field of career paths. It is no longer sufficient to wait until students are in college to introduce computational thinking. All of today's students will go on to live in a world that is heavily influenced by computing, and many of these students will work in fields that involve or are influenced by computing. They must begin to work with algorithmic problem solving and computational methods and tools in K-12. Many courses taught in K-12 (for example, math and science) teach problem solving and logical thinking skills. Computational thinking embodies these skills and brings them to bear on problems in other fields and on problems that lie at the intersection of these fields. In the same way that learning to read opens a gateway to learning a multitude of knowledge, learning to program opens a gateway to learning all things computational. Alice is a programming environment designed to enable novice programmers in creating 3-D virtual worlds, including animations and games. In Alice, 3-D models of objects (e.g., people, animals and vehicles) populate a virtual world and students use a drag and drop editor to manipulate the movement and activities of these objects. Alice for the Middle East - "Alice ME" is a research project funded by Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) under their National Priorities Research Program (NPRP) that aims to modify the well-known Alice introductory programming software to be internationally and culturally relevant for the Middle East. In this project, we are working on developing new 3D models that provide animation objects encountered in daily lives (animals, buildings, clothing, vehicles, etc.) as well as artifacts that reflect and respect the heritage of Qatari culture. The new models will provide characters and images that enable students to create animations that tell the stories of local culture, thereby supporting the QNV 2030 aspiration for maintaining a balance between modernizations and preserving traditions. We are also working with local schools to develop an ICT curriculum centered on using Alice to help students learn computational thinking. We are also designing workshops to train teachers in using Alice and delivering this curriculum.


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