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Information for Parents

A collection of links to online materials that parents can use to help their children improve their programming skills. The material is organised as a set of challenges for those just starting out to children who want more of a challenge.

Amanda Ford

Created by Amanda Ford
last edited Sep 17 2012 by Michael Kölling



CAS are getting an increasing number of enquiries from parents asking what they can do to help their <insert age="" here=""> aged son/daughter improve their coding/programming skills. I reply with the standard Scratch/BYOB, Alice, Greenfoot, YouSrc, Python etc., with also some recommendations to websites such as Udacity, iTunes-U and so on.</insert>

We need to make something like this available from our public website with links to publicly available resources that parents can use at home with their children.

NB. Please limit resources to the following technologies (please recommend others if you think they have a unique place):

  • LightBot
  • Scratch
  • BYOB
  • Greenfoot
  • Python
  • YouSrc
  • HTML5

(I think we should add Raspberry Pi as a platform, and possibly the Arduino under the “Wanting a Challange” ~ alecthegeek
I would second that suggestion and possibly also add Lego Mindstorms to the list as an easy entry to robotics and physical computing ~ Peter Donaldson
(I’d second adding Pi and MindStorms.  I suggest adding Small Basic as an alternative to Python; I’ve found it more accessible to beginners with an inviting interface and it is very well supported with well constructed materials and resources.  It requires less explaining and is less intimidating to non-technical parents trying to support their kids. ~ Lyndsay Hope

Overview

What do you need?

  1. A computer.
    • Cheap computer or a Raspberry Pi. Programming does not require a modern computer. Anything built in the last five years will do. If you have an old computer (that works) lying around then hand it over (and encourage your learner to install Linux on it). The Raspberry Pi is also an excellent choice although it requires the addition of a TV, keyboard and mouse.
  2. An internet connection. All the material you need can be accessed on the internet. this includes:
    • Software
    • E-books
    • Videos
    • Online forums etc to ask questions and seek help.
  3. Perseverance. Sometimes computer programming can throw up challenges in the form of program bugs and concepts that are hard to grasp at first. Be patient and enjoy the process. It’s totally worth it!

A note on the Raspberry Pi: The Raspberry is a very cheap (UKP30) computer that can be used by a student as a learning platform. It requires the addition of a SD card, phone charger, TV, keyboard, mouse and wired internet connection or seperate wifi USB adaptor.

What can be achieved?

It totally depends on the learner. At least a grasp of what a computer program is and how it controls a computer. Some people can and will do amazing things.

Just starting out

Objective: Experience the FUNdamentals of programming with LightBot

LightBot is an web based game that also teaches some of the basic ideas of programming through a series of movement based programming problems. Simple commands are selected by the player in order to instruct the robotic hero of the game how to light up some panels that will unlock the next level.

LightBot 1.0 - The original version which is a good place for complete beginners.

LightBot 2.0 - A slightly more complicated set of challenges to stretch players further.

Objective: Install Scratch and then sign up and then explore the Scratch community

Scratch is a simple programming environment that allows users to create interactive media such as animations, simulations and games and then upload and share them with the rest of the Scratch community. It’s the ideal introduction to programming and shows just how powerful it is combining creative ideas that we all have with the processing power of computers.

Scratch download

You can create an account on the Scratch website which will allow you to comment on other members projects, download them to see how they work and upload your own work for the whole world to see. Sign up here.

Once you have installed Scratch and created an account it’s time to explore and one of the best places to get an idea of what’s possible is in the Scratch Tours section. Visit the tours section and explore the tours available to see what’s possible.

Objective: Download and modify a Scratch art, animation or storytelling project

Art and storytelling projects are a good way to start learning the basics of Scratch as you don’t need to use the full range of instructions in order to create something interesting.

Download your favourite drawing program that uses the pen commands and either extend it or useit to help you create your own artistic masterpiece.

or

Download your favourite TV show Scratch project and then either extend it or create your own episode.

You can use the getting started guide, Scratch cards and the video tutorials to help you if you get stuck.

Objective: Hack the web with the Hackasaurus googles

Peer under the skin of your favourite websites and even change their content! Sounds impossible but using the hackasaurus googles in either Chrome, Firefox, Opera or Safari will let you do just that.

Get started and download the goggles

Then visit your favourite website, activate the googles and then hit r on your keyboard to remix.

If you’d like to know what the tags such as <p></p> and <h1></h1> mean then a clear reference can be found at http://htmlhelp.com/reference/html40/olist.html

Objective: Learn a drop of HTML5 and CSS3.0 with Thimble

Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) is the language used to describe the structure of the information on all the webpages you visit. Most of the layout and formatting is then created using another language called Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Together they form the foundation of the web and are both used by web developers on a regular basis. The latest versions of these page description languages are HTML5 and CSS 3.0 and you can learn the basics by modifying the example projects at Mozilla Thimble Webmaker and then create some pages of your own.

Just a little more advanced

Objective: Download and modify a Python game project

Download the snakes games for experimentation. Unpack it and start playing with and changing the code and seeing what effect it has.

Python Resources:

Free online resources on learning Python from Code Academy

Khan Academy Computer Science videos including Python programming

Objective: Develop a computer game with Greenfoot and Java

Java is a language used by professional programmers. However, downloading and installing Greenfoot and joining the Greenfoot community makes learning Java a whole lot easier. Children can easily create 2D animations, games and simulations with it or modify existing scenarios and then share their creations online.

Getting started:

Doing more:

Wanting a challenge

Some project suggestions

  • Write a web application using Google App Engine

  • If you have Raspberry Pi consider attaching it to world devices. TODO Insert projects here

  • Get an Arduino and use it to manage the real word devices. TODO Insert projects here

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