Thursday, July 25

Computer Programming for Students - A Review

It fascinates me that a large portion of the job market today consists of skills that didn't even exist 20 years ago. How can we help but wonder what jobs will be available to our children? Has it even been invented yet? More and more, computer programming is becoming a key part of that new terrain. And it is no longer relegated to be the task of a computer programmer. This is a skill that is becoming useful to more and more fields. My husband, for instance, is an electrician who specializes in computer programming for large machinery. It isn't something he ever would have imagined as a teen, but he loves what he does. And he feels it is important that our sons learn some programming as well. This is why he insisted we take advantage of the opportunity to review TeenCoder C# Series from Homeschool Programming. Knowing nothing about programming myself, I left the research for this review completely to my husband.

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The TeenCoder C# Series is available as two semester courses. Semester 1 is Windows Programming and teaches basic programming skills. Semester 2 is Game Programming and it teaches students to write graphical computer games. These can be purchased separately or together in a pack. There are around 4 lessons per chapter and a review and activity for each chapter. A chapter per week is doable.

The series is taught primarily through text in a downloadable PDF file. There is an optional instructional video to accompany the lessons if you have a more auditory learner. The PDF text includes excellent descriptions and instruction, as well as illustrations and diagrams.

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Windows Programming  (the first semester course) contains 17 chapters, the 17th being a final project which involves programming a chess game. The Table of Contents reads like a foreign language to me, but my husband was impressed with their explanations of these complex terms. Graphical Interface? Event-driven Programming? "Working With Strings" sounded like English to me, but my husband assures me it isn't what I'm thinking and there is no actual string involved. The program takes you through everything you need to know from beginning to end to learn the basics of C# programming. No prior knowledge of computers is necessary.

Game Programming (the second semester course) contains 15 chapters, the 15th being a final project which involves programming a bumper car game. This semester requires completion of Windows Programming with C# first. The Table of Contents for this semester is much more readable (and intriguing!) to me. It contains all of the basics required to program games. It even covers physics, teaching Velocity and Acceleration, Gravity and Wind, and Reflection. Sound effects, Animation, Maze Generation...they're all covered.

You can purchase the series text alone or with accompanying videos. My husband was very impressed with the text, but not so much with the videos. He insists that the only benefit to purchasing the videos is that you can watch someone click on something, rather than read about where to click. Even then, you'll have to constantly pause because the videos move through tasks quickly. When I read the website description that refers to the videos as reinforcing lessons "in a fun, animated manner", my husband said, "No." When I pressed, he explained, "It is more fun in comparison to a dental exam. But only marginally. If the dental exam involved laughing gas, I'd have to recant that." If you do opt for the video, I recommend reading the text first and then reinforcing with the video, NOT starting with the video, as it does not go into near so much detail and will leave you with questions.

I am a penny-pincher and do not feel qualified to make any judgement on the cost, but I asked my husband to tell me what he thought a reasonable price for the program would be. He guessed $160. I don't spend that much on anything, so that surprised me. And it speaks well for Homeschool Programming, who sells the set instead for $130. My husband says that it is a quality text and it not only teaches C#, but prepares students well and will make an easy transition for them into learning any computer programming language.

Homeschool Programming has other courses available for other age groups. Be sure to read the Crew Reviews to hear what other families think of this company and their many options.

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