Monday 22 July 2013

Homeschool Programming

Middle Son is interested in learning how to programme computers so we were  pleased to be given the opportunity to review Homeschool Programming's Java programming courses, the Teencoder Java series.

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 Homeschool Programming is a company which sells products to teach home educated pupils to programme computers. These programmes are designed for students from 4th grade (year 5) to 12th grade (year 13). The four programmes

  • Kidcoder Visual Basic series
  • Kidcoder Web series
  • Teencoder C# series
  • Teencoder Java series
can be used independently. There is no need to complete the Kidcoder courses before going onto the Teencoder series. Each product contains two semester's work. The first semester is more basic and can be used by students with no programming experience whereas the second semester is designed to be used after the first and is more advanced.

The product that we reviewed, Teencoder Java series, is for the older end of the range. The suggested age range is 9th to 12th grade (year 10 to 13). Middle Son is a bit younger than this, being UK year 8 (7th grade) but is particularly interested in computer science.

The Java series has two components each designed to last a semester or term: these are Java programming

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The course comes supported by optional DVDs.

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Each of the chapters is divided into lessons (one to six) and activities (usually one but six in the last chapter of the programming course). The aim is to complete a chapter a week: there are 16 chapters in Java Programming and 15 in Android programming.  The book doesn't assume prior knowledge and starts with the basics of binary code and then high level languages. The first chapter covers the history of Java, the advantages of using it and the ethical use of programming. The activity for the first chapter is to install the Java Development kit and the course files.

From chapter two on Java is used for programming. The instructions are detailed and clear as well as enforcing the logical saving of programmes.

The videos are helpful to re-enforce concepts. I suspect that it is useful to use both the videos and the book to really get to grips with concepts. Middle Son found the formatting of the videos rather disappointing although I had less problem with this. They look like fairly standard Powerpoint presentations with a presenter with an unobtrusive US accent. Unless a child finds reading programming manuals easy, I would advise using the videos alongside the books.

Middle Son did not get as far as using Android Programming. It is necessary to have completed Java Programming before going onto this book. The Android programming course starts by explaining what Android is and why Android applications work on multiple different devices. There is also a useful table with the names of different Android versions something that has power to confuse me when looking at phones. The Android activities include making apps to calculate the distance between two places and  games.

The Android programmes are run on the student's computer on a free emulator rather than on actual Android devices.

The course is compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems. This page gives more details of computer requirements.

Our thoughts
I would recommend this course although probably for students slightly older than my son. The suggested age range probably means what it says! My son has had experience of programming with C++ but found this programme quite challenging. It was also taking him longer than the suggested time to complete sections. The frequently answered questions section of the website states that the course requires 3-4 hours of work per week to finish in one semester; this may be higher for younger students.

The course is self explanatory and doesn't need a parent to have knowledge of computer programming which is a definite bonus!

From a UK point of view, it would be helpful to be able to purchase the course and videos on line which would avoid expensive shipping fees and the import tax that can be charged on DVDs.

Java Programming  is available at $90 (£58.55 today) for the course and videos. I would recommend the packages including the course and videos. However, the course is available at $75 (£48.79) and the videos separately at $20 (£13.01). Similarly, Android Programming is available at $90 (£58.55) for the course and videos. The course on its own costs $75 (£48.79) and the videos alone cost $20(£13.01). However, the Java Year which comprises both Java Programming and Android Programming costs $155(£100.84) for the courses and video, $130 (£84.58) for the course alone and $30 (£19.52) for the videos alone. Please note that the UK prices are for guide only and obviously vary from day to day.


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