Saturday, June 12

Geek heaven

My boys have inherited their dad's geekiness and have chosen geeky career paths.  While I realize these are subject to change at any moment, Ethan currently wants to be a computer programmer; Joel wants to be an animator.  They were beyond thrilled when they found out I had an opportunity to review Logo Adventures from Motherboard Books.  Tickled pink? More like fuschia.  And I've been impressed as well.  

Logo is a computer programming language designed by experts at MIT to help teach children problem solving and to encourage creativity.  Learning this simple programming language makes an easy transition into more complicated programming when they get older.  Even if a child isn't interested in a career in computers, the logic skills alone are a valuable lesson.  If a child IS inclined to pursue a computer-related field, this is an invaluable tool.  This first program does not include variables, but a follow-up program is available which does introduce variables. It is called Computer Science Pure and Simple and is geared for older children.

The program is intended for children ages 8-13.  Children 8-10 may need some adult assistance.  To begin, students run the program disk for Microworlds EX and open their books to Lesson 1.  The instruction book carefully guides students through basic commands that allow them to move a turtle around a graphics page.  The turtle is able to draw, if instructed, as it moves.  By the time the student has finished lesson 1, he has already learned 8 commands in the Logos language and can create some pretty impressive stuff just by bossing around a turtle.  This first lesson takes approximately an hour, as they are just beginning to learn and need to explore the program a bit.  Subsequent lessons take closer to half an hour.  There are 26 lessons in the book and they fit well with a once-a-week schedule.  Each lessons gives plenty of review on previous lessons learned.  Students could happily do more than one lesson a week, either progressing quickly, or breaking each lesson down into smaller portions and doing 10 minutes per day to finish one lesson per week. I recommend allowing plenty of time for this, so that students can have free time to explore develop abstract ideas through experimentation.

The first 13 lessons focus on drawing and basic commands.  The next 13 lessons focus on animation and more complicated commands.  Each lesson progresses carefully with plenty of repetition so that students are never overwhelmed or confused.  There is quite a bit of repetition, but it's a necessary repetition.  Students may grasp the why's and how's very quickly, but they are still learning a 'language', which is something that takes time.  Repetition solidifies the concepts learned.  

So the big question then is the price.  Is it worth it?  Being a frugal mom on a homeschool budget, I can't easily say that anything that costs $129 is worth it.  $100 of this is for the Microworlds disk, so if you already own the disk, the Instruction Manual is available for $29.00.   This manual does a top-notch job of teaching students how to use MicroWorlds and I can confidently say I believe it is worth the $29.00.  As for MicroWorlds, it is not a purchase one makes just for this one class, but is it's own investment.  Long after the class if finished, students can create complex geometric shapes or even simple animation games like pac-man, plot algebraic functions, and simulate physics laws.  I've even read that you can incorporate the program with Lego Mindstorms NXT.  

My boys loved any excuse to "play" on the computer and they learned plenty.  What I appreciated the most was the way the program challenged them to develop their reasoning skills.  In some lessons, students are given a string of commands and are asked to predict what the commands will accomplish.  In other lessons, students are given a picture and asked to write the commands that will create the picture.  This was a wonderful learning tool for my boys!  They had to truly think through each step and if their commands didn't accomplish their goal, they had to rethink and compare and try again.  It wasn't so complicated that it frustrated them, but was just challenging enough to keep them involved.

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