Today, I’m reviewing KidCoder, a multimedia course for children in computer programming, using the Windows program Visual Basic, from Homeschool Programming, Inc.. The course is designed to be completed in one school semester, and is paired with their Game Programming course (for the second semester), and for the purposes of this review, I was generously provided with both.
When you think about what there is to learn in the area of computer programming, and then consider that this course is being offered for children as low as 6th grade (through 12th grade), this curriculum is amazing right out of the gate. The curriculum is made easy to use through a textbook (which we used in PDF format) and a series of flash videos.
Each unit was broken down into manageable bite-sized lessons so that it was possible to view a short lesson each day and read the corresponding chapter in the PDF text (the content of the videos and the book was slightly different, using different examples, and allowing for more detailed explanations in the text). Both the videos and the text are illustrated using the a kid-friendly mouse character.
I have to say that with my learning style and that of at least one of my children, the videos were absolutely invaluable. I think we would have enjoyed the textbook more in the print form that is part of the regular course package ($70 for the Course, $85 for the Course plus Video, or $20 for just the Video, or purchased together with the Game Programming course for a discount), but it was nevertheless quite easy to use.
The textbook is intended for “self-study” but my 6th-grader needed me on hand to help understand quite a few of the concepts. Having said that, he was also very eager to bypass the instructions and just dig in and try some things for himself. (I can’t imagine where he acquired that tendency!) When he couldn’t do what he wanted to do, he was driven back to the textbook. To get a better idea what the videos are like, you may want to view the demonstration video, or take a look at the screenshot below: The materials lead the learner step-by-step through the learning involved. My kids did get a bit bogged down in the history of computers/internet section at the beginning, requiring quite a bit of persuading to keep going in the course, although Pumpkin says he found it more interesting than his sister did. (Note: she is entering 5th grade, so technically not in range of the intended audience for this course.)
But once over that initial hump, and once we figured out how much invaluable extra information was available in the textbook, we did much better. Each chapter of the textbook concludes with a review and a “Your Turn” section that gives kids a chance to put their new knowledge to work. At the beginning of the course, these tasks are quite basic and simple, but by the end of the course, students are perfecting their work on a “pong” game (as shown in the demo video, mentioned above), giving an excellent segue into the material in the second semester course.
Although we spent most of our time working through the first semester Windows Programming course, the Game Programming course looks promising too. With all the same great features of the first semester course, it moves from the groundwork laid in the first semester to cover topics such as Artificial Intelligence, Game Logic, working with Images and Animation, and culminating in a final project that creates a simulated board game called “Chain Reaction.” Lesson Four of this final chapter has an interesting title: “Blowing Things Up.” Talk about kid appeal!
We enjoyed this course, and intend to make the lessons and the second-semester Game Programming course a part of our fall homeschool for both Pumpkin and Sweetpea. My advice, if you are interested in the course is that the videos are indispensable, but the best option, in my mind, is the text/video combination.
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