Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Review: Homeschool Programming

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 photo TC-JP_MED_zps53521e2c.pngThrough The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew we were given the opportunity to review a computer science and programming curriculum called TeenCoder Java Series from Homeschool Programming.

Homeschool Programming is a company started by two homeschool parents with degrees in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. They found a serious lack of good computer training in the homeschool realm, so with their backgrounds and experience they decided to create their own!

The company has a wide range of products available for children and teens to learn programming, web design, and game design.

For this review, we chose TeenCoder Java, mainly because the second semester contains Android programming, and Laura was interested in learning how to design her own apps!

We received two semesters worth of Computer Science curriculum bundled together. The first semester teaches Java programming, and is a pre-requisite to the second semester, which teaches Android programming, and how to write programs for Android devices. We received the instructional student book as a download, and we also received instructional videos that help to explain the student text.

Check out a Demo Video here!
For a detailed list of what is covered in the Java Instruction, read the Table of Contents here.
For a detailed list of what is covered in the Android Instruction, read the Table of Contents here.
To use this program, students learn how to install Java Development Kit (JDK) and Eclipse. Both are free programs that are compatible with both PC and MAC.
Each program covers one semester, or roughly half the year, if the student follows a typical pace. The coursework is in-depth enough that it could be adequate preparation for a student to take the AP Computer Science A exam. The Android programming curriculum utilizes a free software emulator so an Android device is not necessary to complete the course.
The course is designed to be 'self study'. It's target students are in grades 9-12, who have some basic working knowledge of finding their way around a computer, and downloading and installing software. No previous programming experience is necessary. Parents who do not have computer science experience need not fear this program. It is set up so that a high school student can work through everything right from lesson one.
How we used this program:  Laura began working through the Java Programming, and after about 8 weeks, she has gotten through nine chapters. (There are 16 total chapters in the first semester). It has been slow going. At first she mostly watched the videos, but as she worked through the student book, she found that although they complimented each other nicely, she preferred reading the manual over watching the videos. She downloaded the necessary software and has been working on the student activities assigned to each chapter.
Here are some screen shots of some of her work:
Downloading the Eclipse program
 First Student Activity


 Fixing A Run Time Error
 Special Insights given throughout the program
The 'workbench' explained
In Laura's words, here are the pros and cons of what she has experienced so far:
Pros of Java Programming:
  • The program gives an excellent foundation in the 'vocabulary' of computer science and programming.
  • It is very explanatory and in-depth.
  • It has excellent training in how to fix and debug programs.
Cons of Java Programming:
  • There was not enough explanation in how to complete the activities.
  • The lessons were very long, without breaks in the information, which made it difficult to know when would be a convenient spot to stop, and be able to comfortably pick it up the next day. This made me want to complete a whole lesson in one sitting, which really was just too much information at one time.
  • It was not easy for me to download and find the necessary things I needed in the program itself and in the software programs I had to use. (This was not a problem with the program itself, but more reflective on Laura's lack of experience with those activities - have to say she did pick up quite a bit of experience in this by completing the lessons so far!)
  • I would have liked learning more through "hands on" activities, rather than doing so much reading with only an activity at the end of the chapter to demonstrate the objective. By the time I got to the activity part, I found it difficult to apply what I just read, and had to keep going back and re-reading to find out what to do. (This may be more reflective of a learning style, and not necessarily the program itself)
Where do we go from here?: As you might be able to tell, this program has been very challenging for Laura. She has hung in there with the hopes of getting to "the fun stuff" after learning all the preliminaries and laying a good foundation. She was really looking forward to learning how to program apps, so I think that (and a computer science credit on her high school transcript) will be enough motivation for her to continue this program beyond the review period, even though it is not her most favorite thing in the world. We only briefly glanced through the Android Programming instructional book for the purpose of writing the review, but she doesn't understand enough yet to be able to dabble with it. I have to say, from my reading, that the Android programming looks to be very similar - read a chapter, then complete an activity. The activities range from gaming options to locators, and creating widgets for websites. While Laura is looking forward to creating an app, she really needs to get the basics down better before she will be ready to do so.
Who would this program be a good fit for?: Laura and I both would recommend this program to a high schooler who is very interested in computer programming, perhaps has a little experience already that they are looking to add to, and might even be considering a career in computer science or programming. Yes, the program is that intense! Someone who is not real computer savvy, or is just interested in learning basic things, might find this program a little too intense for them, but someone who is serious about learning Java and Android programming will likely be very happy with this program.
How to order: At the Homeschool Programming website, Java and Android programming can be purchased in several different options: Teen Coder Java Programming course only is $75. With the videos, it is $90. If you purchase the videos only, it is $20. If you bundle the Java and Android courses together to make a complete year of Computer Science, then the prices are as follows: Courses only are $130. Courses with videos are $155. and videos only are $30. Perhaps some people could get away with just the videos only, but most people would definitely want to purchase the course, which gives you the student manual. I think it would be difficult to work your way through this course without it.
Members of the crew reviewed a wide variety of courses from Homeschool Programming. To see what they thought, click here or the banner below:  

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