I used to love programming, and I still love to watch my students learning to love programming. There have only been a few homeschooling programming curriculum choices, and we have used them. They are usually limited to basic stuff and not much in the way of modern languages. Past that, we introduce students to the various industry standards available at most local bookstores in the computer section. I go back to BASIC, Fortran, and COBOL (shh, like any respectable programmer from way back when, I am not really admitting that I know COBOL), so yeah, I’m old and old school. Having had to learn so much over again in life like reading, living skills, computer skills using assistive technology because I am Deaf and blind, I have lost much of my interest in programming at this age and time. However, there are many DeafBlind programmers in the industry, so it can be done. As a teacher though, I am always looking for good curriculum even for programming. I recently got the chance to review Homeschool Programming.com’s TeenCoder™: Java Programming course.
With TeenCoder™ courses, you get everything you need to learn and apply the skills taught for a good solid foundation. Course begins with using the basic textedit/notepad and terminal for hand coding and compiling for your first program which is the famous “Hello, World” popular since the beginning days of programmings. The course carries you through Strings, User Input, Basic Flow Control, Debugging, Object-Oriented Java, Graphical Java, Swing Input Controls, Arrays and Collections, Derived Classes, and more. Every concept you need to jump start your learning and carry you through to more formal applications. Explanations are clear and easy to understand with the why you do it fully covered. Activities are fun and apply the concepts learned well. There is plenty to allow you to build your expertise as you move through the chapters. Solutions are provided including screen shots to help you know what you are supposed to get. As you step into development packages, the course recommends and uses free software and gives detailed instructions for downloading and installing. You do not need to purchase anything beyond the course materials to complete the course. Having used other course materials and industry-standard, I can tell you that this textbook is a much better read.
My fellow reviewers at Mosaics Reviews have spent a lot of time with this course and other TeenCoder™ courses, too. I will let you read their detailed reviews and opinions here. As usual, my main objective when possible, is accessibility. Several felt that their students enjoyed the courses and could easily do the work on their own which is a plus for a family where the parent may not be into computers, especially programming. I know my students were reluctant to stop the course each day wanting to continue through more than one subject time. That sounds like a win to me. Another parent and I both agree that with other courses used or industry-standard texts the students just didn’t seem to learn much. These TeenCoder™ courses seem to get much more information across and allows the student to really be able to apply the concepts to very detailed activities. One parent stated that their student did the work on their own, but got great help from TeenCoder™ staff when he emailed them directly about a problem. Some of the courses have videos available to according to one parent who used them. That could be a great help to some parents. Read the detailed reviews to get even more information and tips.
Accessibility is the big question for me and my students always. My regular students loved the program and took off with it with almost no help from me or anyone. My blind and DeafBlind students along with me struggled at first trying to read the book. We had assistants sign in ASL or read the book to us which was slow, but because the book was so well-written we were all able to accomplish the tasks. The fun was there, but dampened some by the lack of true accessibility. I asked the developers if they would send us some accessible documents for the time-being because I felt from what we had done that the course materials could be useful and easily made accessible. They, after some thought, did so which I commend them for because giving strangers full access to your hard work can be scary. Upon looking at the materials, their were only a few images that wouldn’t be accessible to a screen reader and/or braille display which made it wonderful to us. Most everything including the code boxes to show exactly how the code was to look was actually text-based making it accessible to us. The few images could easily be tagged and the information listed as text, too, with little work. The document with the most images, of course, was the solutions book, but there were few screen shots even in that book. Almost everything had been described in text and text-based boxes. Perfect!
By making the books available through iBooks or e-pub formats from text-based source documents or through Bookshare.org, Homeschool Programming could offer their courses to not only regular education students, but also print disabled including dyslexics, blind, and DeafBlind with very little extra work and no extra expense. That would be a win for everyone as it would widen their market to all students and even schools.
Worried about the software they use for developing? Well, the textedit and terminal programs for hand-coding is text-based and naturally accessible. Their choice of Eclipse for IDE or Integrated Development Environments is perfect. It is almost totally accessible already. We found the tab close buttons were not linked to the screen reader, so we couldn’t close those, but opened tabs didn’t hinder us in any way. All of the instructions could be easily followed as listed by commands, instead of with the mouse as intended, of course. We used the command listings as is to use the menus for access. The initial screen had an image-based click environment where you had to click an image of an arrow. Of course, our screen reader couldn’t see that arrow image, but in the menu we were able to get get past the initial “desktop” image to get to the actual workbench area. Once there, we could use the keyboard to follow the steps in either the work area or the top menu to navigate, open files, type code, run programs, etc. Now, we are slower, especially since we didn’t have accessible documents in the beginning, but we are picking up speed now. Our fastest student has made it through Chapter 13 of 16 chapters which goes through page 262 of 310 including the Index. That chapter began activities that sight would seem beneficial to understand if you had never had sight. We had student assistants help our student with tactile representations of the images to give him the grasp of what the program was trying to accomplish. However, other activities to come shouldn’t be that difficult because all of our students play chess and other similar type games, so we should be able to understand the reading and some 3D representations of the visual aspects of the program will certainly help us know what the program is designed to do on screen for visual users. With that understanding, we blind and deafblind programmers can code visual games, too. This course will really go a along way helping our blind and deafblind students enhance their mental mapping skills, too.
Screen shot of Eclipse and working braille window.
As far as the few accessibility problems with Eclipse IDE, the program is totally usable, and we will contact the developers of this freeware program to help them make the few adjustments to accessibility. Even if that doesn’t change, this course is beneficial and usable to all populations if the interest to learn exist. Hopefully, the few statements needed to explain to blind and deafblind users how to follow the steps through the menu instead of the mouse and the other couple of modifications or lack of access can be added to the course instructions because they really would be only simple additions. If the Homeschool Programming staff will make the course available through Apple’s iBooks or bookshare.org, we know we can learn programming through their material, and that would make us very happy, indeed!
The company has many different courses and different levels, too, so you need to check out their web site athttp://homeschoolprogramming.com. The TeenCoder™:Java Programming can be purchased as textbook only $75, videos only $20, or package of book and videos $90. Videos, according to one parent may not be detailed, complete lessons, but can be very useful especially for those whose learning styles use multiple visual inputs and/or auditory input. Unfortunately, the videos are not closed captioned, so they are not useful for deaf students overly. That could be easily fixed, so maybe the company will do that in the future.This is an excellent course to introduce and build programming skills in Java. In fact, this old programmer may have just gotten interested again because the accessibility proved to me that I don’t have to start over learning again! Thanks, Homeschool Programming. You made my day for sure!