Thursday, September 5, 2013

Review: Homeschool Programming's TeenCoder

 One of the things people often ask when they find out I’m homeschooling high schoolers is how I am able to teach them the all of the various subjects at their level.  My answer is usually a simple – I don’t. At least, not always. While I’d like to believe I’ve learned enough over the years that I could satisfactorily teach them just about any subject, I really am aiming higher for our homeschool.  I want them to learn from experts, or at the very least, discover how to seek knowledge and learn independently. Even so, while I am not an expert across all subjects, I do have an education and can help them in many areas.  I guide, explain, teach, oversee and pretty much supplement whatever resources we are using in most subjects.

Fortunately, my academic strengths match my oldest daughter’s academic strengths for the most part, though I’ve shared in the past my clueless subject is Latin. In this case, I just have to completely outsource. Understandably, I just can’t wing a foreign language where I have zero experience.  I’m ok with that.  We all have our deficiencies. However, my son has discovered a new deficiency of mine – computer programming.  I’m going to date myself a bit here, but when I was in junior high, my school started offering the latest and greatest in computer courses.  It was a big thrill to learn how to scroll my name across the black screen in bright, green letters. No cool graphics, no Windows, not even a mouse to operate. And that is pretty much the extent of my computer programming experience.

Computer programming is clearly something I need to completely outsource if my son wants to learn it properly.  I need a program directed to the student with clear instructions. The content needs to be of enough substance to justify a solid high school credit, but not something designed for professional adults or overly technical.  My student needs to be able to complete it independently, but it also needds sufficient support materials clear enough for a teacher who really knew nothing about the subject.  Hands-on projects would be ideal, not only for the subject, but for my son’s learning style.  Speaking of learning styles, video instruction would be awesome as well.  It sounds like a bit of a tall order, doesn’t it?  It was, yet a program with all of the above fell into my lap.

Homeschool Programming

I recently had the opportunity to review Homeschool Programming’s TeenCoder C# curriculum.  I had heard of it before, but really didn’t give it much thought as we didn’t have a need for such curriculum at the time.  However, a course in computer programming was something I really thought would be beneficial for my son’s high school transcript given his interest, and he's now entering 9th grade.

TeenCoder C# is a high school curriculum using Microsoft’s free Visual C# program. It is broken down into two semester programs: Windows Programming and Game ProgrammingYou can purchase them together for one full high school credit or as individual semester courses. Windows Programming is a prerequisite to Game Programming. I received a digital version of all the materials for reviewing purposes, but those ordering would receive a perfect-bound 8.5” x 11” student book and a course CD.  I also was able to view the supplemental instructional videos for each course, which would be received on a DVD if purchased.

Windows Programming is presented in 17 chapters, with each chapter having three to four lessons each. Each chapter also has a hands-on activity. The average weekly time required is about 3-4 hours. The student text is written directly to the student; my son (14) said the instructions were very clear and easy to follow. Check out the Sample Student Lesson to get a feel for the presentation. The activities start pretty basic and progress in difficulty throughout the program. By the second chapter they are writing and running their own C# programs. In the last chapter, students create a chess game. For a look at the material covered through the course, see the TeenCoder Windows Programming TOC.  Getting started was initially a bit frustrating, but I think that was mostly because I had a digital version of the text and downloading the required Visual #C program wasn’t as straight-forward as I would have liked. Everything was easy to follow after the initial process. There are also instructions on the website to help with the download process.

While everything is geared directly to the student, the teacher (inept or not) isn’t left hanging. Support resources include a solution guide with short chapter summaries, explanations of student activities, tests and answers, and help files. View the Solutions Overview and Sample Activity Solution to get a feel for the structure of the teacher materials. It is assumed that you, as the parent, do not know how to program. This was a must for me! Homeschool Programming also emphasizes that they are available for questions for the lifetime of the course.

If you have an audio visual learner as I do, instructional videos are available as an optional resource.  The student textbook is required to complete the course, but the instructional videos are reinforcement of what is covered in the text. I had my son watch them first so he knew what to expect, then I had him read the chapter. Sample instructional videos are available on the Homeschool Programming website for the various programs offered, including a Game Coder Sample Instructional Video, which is part of the second half of the TeenCoder C# series.

The second half, Game Programming, is structured identically to Windows Programming. Students learn a game-creation framework for Windows and X Box 360 using Microsoft’s free XNA Game Studio. We didn’t get to this portion of the program because Windows Programming needs to be completed first, but trust me when I tell you my son is looking forward to going through the material.  In the final project, students create a bumper car game.  For the complete content covered, see the TeenCoder Game Programming TOC.

Both my son and I had a great overall impression of TeenCoder C#. My son was able to work through the material completely on his own.   He said the manual was very clear and well-written.  So far, I haven’t even needed to use the teacher helps, though I did look them over and found them simple enough.Visual C# is easy to use and is drag-and-drop. TeenCoder C# gets very high marks from this family for ease of use!

My son really appreciated the instructional videos. In fact, I think he really wished they were a larger part of the program as he really got a lot out of seeing the activity instructions rather than reading about them.  I highly recommend you add them to your package as they are well worth it.

If you are looking to include computer programming in your homeschool learning, I highly recommend you check out Homeschool Programming.  They have a variety of resources, including the KidCoder series for younger students. TeenCoder C# can be purchased as two semester courses or as one-year package. Either Windows Programming or Game Programming is $75 for the course only or $90 for the course and videos. If you start with the course only and decide later to purchase the videos, they are available for $20.  A nice discount is provided if you purchase both semesters at the same time. Package pricing is $130 for courses only, $155 for courses and videos, and $30 for the videos only. Visit the Homeschool Programming website to learn more or to purchase.

To read more reviews on TeenCoder and other products from Homeschool Programming, visit Mosaic Reviews.

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