Monday, September 2, 2013

Review: TeenCoder Windows/Game Programming

My dad is a computer programmer.  Like many youngsters, his passion for computers started out as a hobby.  When he realized people would pay him to program it was like in the cartoons: jaw dropping, eyes popping out, AHH-OOO-GAH!  And he's never looked back!

My love for technology also developed in my youth.  We first got dial-up internet when I was in 8th grade...good old AOL.  Before long I was dabbling in HTML and launched my first website on GeoCities, in a virtual neighborhood with a street address everything!  How times have changed!

Technology may have changed over the years, but the pull it has on the imaginations of young people remains the same.  Many computer programmers write their first programs in middle school.  Homeschooled kids are uniquely situated to excel in this area due to the ability to streamline their time spent hitting the books and allocate their remaining time to learning a coding language.

Homeschool Programming, Inc. was started in order to teach kids from 4th to 12th grades everything they need to know to get started writing their own programs, games, Android apps, or web pages.  Best of all, the only prerequisite to their entry level classes is the ability to use a computer!

The Courses

  • KidCoder: Beginning Web Design, a first semester course introducing HTML and CSS
  • KidCoder: Advanced Web Design, a second semester course on HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript
  • recommended for 6th-8th grade students
  • requires a Windows-based computer

  • TeenCoder: Windows Programming, a first semester course introducing C#
  • TeenCoder: Game Programming, a second semester course teaching C# game programming
  • recommended for 9th-12th grade students
  • requires a Windows-based computer

  • TeenCoder: Java Programming, a first semester course introducing Java
  • TeenCoder: Android Programming, a second semester course teaching Android programming in the Java language
  • recommended for 9th-12th grade students
  • compatible with both Windows and Mac OS-based computers

Each course is available individually for $70, or bundle both semesters for $120.

Microsoft Visual is a free developmental tool. That means no extra cost to purchase the right software!

Though I don't have kids the right ages for any of these programs, Hubby and I volunteered to try out the TeenCoder Windows and Game Programming courses for the purpose of this review.  Just think of us as Big Kids.

Each semester contains a textbook and installation CD to set up the program on your computer.  There are also instructional DVDs available to supplement the textbook for about $15 extra.  I had access to these resources in digital format only, but take my word for it, the physical product is preferable! 

The Good

You don't have to be a tech savvy mama or papa to teach your kids to code!  I've noticed that moms not much older than me are oftentimes significantly less tech savvy than I or moms younger than me are.  In other words, there's a generation gap!  But that doesn't preclude them...YOU...from using this program!  Each of the courses is a self-study program designed to be completed by the student at their own pace on their own computer.  Each course comes with a complete solutions guide!  There are also tests and answer keys and guidance on how to evaluate your student's progress.

The textbook is laid out in a careful and methodical manner.  Plus it's peppered with cute cartoon characters.  Oh, and it's a printed-and-bound book.  Did I mention how tricky it was to juggle it on my screen as a PDF for this review?  Yeah, big plus having it on paper!

If you get stuck, there are several resources to help you out.  Not only does the textbook hold all the answers you need, but there are help files, and the videos are a huge help.  But best of all is the customer service.  Homeschool Programming offers fast, free, personalized technical support to all customers.

The Bad

Computer programming is not for the faint of heart! A misplaced or forgotten semicolon can ruin an otherwise glorious bit of coding.  This is as true for the student as it is for the long-time veteran.  But the veteran has the benefit of knowing what to look for whereas the student may find his frustration level running high as he seeks for his error.

Hubby didn't appreciate some of the over-repetitiveness of the text.  The fact that certain things were repeated sometimes threw him for a loop, making him think he had missed something and that it was referring to something else rather than the same thing he already knew.  I didn't have quite the same experience when I worked through the exercises, but I could see how he would interpret some sentences as if they were introducing new information rather than referring back to information previously mentioned.  Bottom line: you could tell the text was written by a dense/technical type, not an artsy/intuitive type...for better or for worse.  But that is true of much of the coding world including the coding languages themselves!

The Results

Hubby and I were quite giddy over our first successfully completed computer programs!  Granted, they weren't much to look at, but the simple fact that we made them was amazing!

My first computer program! Ain't she grand?

Neither of us has had the time to finish the entire semester, but I could totally see my teen-aged self getting really into this and mastering it all in a fairly short time.  If my kids express an interest in computer programming in a few more years, we will definitely revisit these courses!

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