Thursday, September 5, 2013

Product Review: Homeschool Programming Inc.'s KidCoder Beginning Web Design

Product at a glance:

  • Product Received: Homeschool Programming KidCoder Beginning Web Design Course
  • Publisher: Homeschool Programming, Inc.
  • Price: $70.00 for the course alone, $85.00 for the course and instructional videos, or $20.00 with video only. In October, they will off the KidCoder Year Pack which includes KidCoder Beginning Web Design and KidCoder Advanced Web Design together (a full-year of technology curriculum) for $120.00 for the courses along, $145.00 for the courses and instructional videos, or $30.00 for videos only.
  • Web-site: Homeschool Programming, Inc.
  • Facebook Page: Homeschool Programming on Facebook
  • Twitter: Homeschool Programming on Twitter
  • Ages/grades suggested for: Grade 4 through 12. Younger kids with motivation can possibly handle it. Adults and college age people can use the information to self teach.
  • Who can use it? This program is excellent for homeschoolers. Siblings can reuse the same content without charge because the company supports homeschooling families. From what I have seen of the courses, they would also be fantastic for parents who want to do computer programming as a summer enrichment activity or after schooling activity. I could easily see it being used in co-ops, private schools, or even public schools though teachers of groups would need to purchase a separate course for each student. They do offer group discounts according to their web-site and conditions of use statement.
  • Products by this publisher (paraphrased descriptions from their web-site): 
    • KidCoder Beginning Web Design is the first semester course in the KidCoder Series. Kids in grades 4-12 will learn to create their own web pages using HTML. 
    • KidCoder Windows Programming is the first semester course in the KidCoder Visual Basic Series. Kids in grades 6-12 will learn to write graphical Windows programs using the Visual Basic programming language.  
    •  KidCoder Game Programming is the second semester course in the KidCoder Visual Basic Series. It takes your programming to the next level.
    • TeenCoder Java Programming is the first semester course in the TeenCoder Java Series. It introduces 9-12th grade students to the Java Programming Language. Students learn to create graphical and console applications using object-oriented design concepts.
    • TeenCoder Android Programming is the second semester course in the TeenCoder Java Series. Students use their Java knowledge and free Android Developer Tools for Eclipse to write their own mobile applications. 
    • TeenCoder Windows Programming is the first course in the TeenCoder C# series. It introduces 9th-12th grade students to the C# programming language. Students will learn to create graphical Windows applications using object-oriented design concepts. 
    •  TeenCoder Game Programming is the second semester course in the TeenCoder C# series. It pairs the C# programming language with Microsoft's XNA Game Studio to provide a modern, easy to use game-creation framework. Students will be thrilled to learn how to write their own Windows games from scratch.

What problem does this product solve (from their web-site): 

Homeschool Programming, Inc. was founded by homeschooling parents who have a B.S. and M.S. degrees in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. They have a combined 17+ years of experience in the software industry. A love of computers starts early. Many computer programmers write their first programs in middle school. The courses from Homeschool Programming, Inc. let kids and teens take that important first step towards what could become a lifelong hobby, career, and passion!

It all started when a homeschooled family member wanted to learn computer programming, REAL computer programming and her mom had no idea how to teach her. When their searches for material to teach their relative came up empty, they started writing their own curriculum. They wanted to teach professional programming languages in a fun way that students could understand and non-technical parents could teach.

The Product Test:

Our family received a digital version of KidCoder Beginning Web Design Course to try out for several weeks in order to write a fair and honest review. I have a fledgling knowledge of web design having taken an intro to web design class in college about 9 years ago. Although I have not endeavored to write my own page since that class, I understand the fundamentals that are involved in page creation. Looking over the material in KidCoder, it has a very similar feel to the college level class I took. The pacing is even similar. The material parallels that class. While it is written in a tone that kids can relate to with illustrations that kids can enjoy, the material is code line for code line what I studied in that sophomore level college class. What am I trying to say? There is a depth of material covered in this course that you don't usually see in elementary and middle school technology programs. I would venture to say that even in high school level technology classes you may not see this much material. 

Dad letting them work on their web page project.

Normally, if you order the program from Homeschool Programming, Inc. from their web-site, you receive a physical printed textbook and a CD with the set up programs. To enable the reviewers to have a longer review period, we received a pdf of the book and downloadable set up programs. We also were given web access to the instruction videos that are usually sent out on DVD's and supplement the text book. For the first week or two's lessons, we didn't take advantage of the instructional videos. My husband would read the lessons to the kids (a fourth grade 9-year-old and a seventh grade 12-year-old) and then he would walk them through the activities. In the last couple of weeks (once we took the time to check out the videos), the kids quite honestly don't need our help. They watch the videos while flipping through the book and then will work through much of the activity on their own. Dad really only gets called in when their page doesn't "work" like they expect. For those of you who have done any basic web design, that means Dad just gets called in to proofread.

The beginning to the instructional video.
With the instructional videos, I really think that ANY parent could use this program to teach their children. A motivated child could easily teach themselves if the parents aren't technologically inclined. The videos are also great for students who need audio or visual aids to learn. My oldest daughter is an audio learner and even though we never homeschooled her, I often had difficulty relating to her learning style as I have always been a visual learner. It was difficult for me to understand that reading the chapter and writing notes wasn't how she needed to study.

A shot from Chapter 1 Lesson 4 explaining
HTML tools and their benefits and downsides.

The class is broken into chapters which are broken into lessons, it would be easy to do 4 days a week and complete the class in a semester. It would also be easy to do 2-3 days a week and stretch the class out for the entire school year. This will probably be how we continue after the review is submitted. We have so much material we are going over this year. Aside from Math and History, everything will probably only be done 2-3 times per week. The lessons are quick and engaging enough that my kids did not mind going over 2 or even 3 per day as well.

I knew when signing up for this review, it would inspire and excite my 12 year old. I was right, he was over the moon at the prospect of gathering enough knowledge to put together his own web-site. What I hadn't counted on was the enthusiasm I have gotten from my 9 year old daughter. She is at least as excited as my son and has already started saving for her web-site domain. She's very worried that someone will steal her "Emma's Fashion" domain before she scrapes together enough to buy it. They took the first few lessons and sketched out a site map of how their pages will link up and spread out. Planning not just the front page but also layers and layers of pages that link to buttons on their homepage.

Here are some great positive points to think about:

  • A great aspect of this product are the tools used for web design. All of the software mentioned is either included or a free download or software that generally comes with most computers (text edit, notepad, web browsers, etc). 
  • The material in the classes are in depth enough to be used for high school credits. Each level of the class is two semesters which equal a full credit of technology if you live in an area where that is required.
  • There are chapter tests in case you are in a state where you are required to submit scores.
  • As a parent, you need absolutely no experience to teach this class. There are some great tools that help you get started. Make sure you read the instructions and watch the video tutorials. Overall it is simple and easy to use.
  • KidCoder is able to be used on Windows or Mac Computers.
  • It is something that you could absolutely hand over to an 8th or 9th grade student and expect them to run themselves through the entire program with minimal help. 
  • The price is good especially when you consider the material involved. I paid $210 for the textbook (plus tuition, plus gas, plus technology fees) in my college class and I would venture to say that it didn't cover as much as these kids will cover in the full year course that runs $120-$145. 
  • They offer some great resources on their web-site that show you what you're getting yourself into. Demo Videos and Sample Pages will show you how easy the system can be.

What would I change about it?

I honestly can't name a single thing that I would change at the moment. We are 4 chapters in and I've been pleased with the program completely so far. I mean, it's easy to say, "Well, it's pricey!" but in reality, it is not. I paid $700 or more for a very similar class in college and it was less interactive and explanatory. With the videos, it could easily be as pricey as those distance schools that charge $400 or more per year for electives. I think at $120-$145, it's well priced and a good value. 

What did Mom think?

I liked the pacing of the class. Even my flighty 9 year old stuck with it throughout the entire lesson (and that was with dad reading aloud to them). Once we tried out the videos, she was definitely on board fully. On an average day, I would guess the material would take about 20-40 minutes per lesson. Some shorter, some longer as the kids build their web-sites. There is a bit of a learning curve in getting everything set up and going. I'm sure it has more to do with my bull-in-a-china-shop method of charging in without reading the FAQ or Getting Started Guide more than the program. My husband came in, gave the Getting Started page a quick once over and had everything humming along in the time it took me to let the bulldogs outside and back in.

I think my favorite part of the program is just the enthusiasm I have seen in the kids as we worked on the material. They are so excited to decorate their little corner of the World Wide Web with their thoughts and dreams and hobbies. 

Their one disappointment was that the exercises in the book define what the page you are writing does. They didn't want to create a page about Raptors, they wanted more excitement than that. After assuring them that they can apply what they are learning to their own page eventually, they perked back up and have been more self motivated working on this than I have seen them motivated about anything else ever! As an adult, I understand you have to practice before you can soar.

What did Dad think?

It was amazing rereading the history of the internet and the basic terminology of the web, including how to design a web page, KidCoder makes all the steps clear and concise and accounts for numerous operating systems and web browsers.  And I got to relive it, with the my children's fresh sets of eyes, my own initial journey onto the web to see how it works.  KidCoder provided more help and details then I could have on my own and my kids were cheering at each new lesson and marveling at the progression on their web site devoted to Raptors. They completely forgot they were in class.

What did the Kids Think?

Matthew (age 12): 

"I think the KidCoder Web Design class is good because it tells you step by step how to write the code for a web-site. Plus, it is teaching you how to plan and design your own web-site and I think it's fantastic. I want to keep studying it so that by the end of the school year, I have my own functioning web-site where I talk about all my hobbies!"

Emma (age 9): 

"I think it's really cool that kids can learn how to design their own web-sites. I can't wait to keep going in the class and get to the point where I'm actually designing my OWN web-site instead of the practice sites the class teaches. I've even picked out the name for my site and I'm saving my allowance to buy the domain name!"

Find other reviews and opinions of this product and several of their other products at Mosaic Reviews

#HomeschoolProgramming, Inc.