Thursday, March 10, 2011

...Still I Love Technology *

Tonight we have a guest blogger here at Homegrown Minds. Because I am NOT a computer expert, I have out-sourced the programming instruction to someone much better qualified. Please welcome our principal and technology guru... Daddy!

Some of my best memories from childhood involve computers. That probably sounds pitiful to anyone who is even a mere decade younger than me, because computers had already become common in school, the workplace and the home by the 1990's. To today's twenty-somethings, hearing that my best memories involved computers probably sounds as exciting as saying my best memories involved watching television, but exciting is exactly what it was.

During the late 1970's/early 80's, a computer in the house was probably less common than even say, a ham radio. My parents were a generation older than the parents of virtually all of my friends, so it was very unlikely that we would have ever had a computer in the house at all if it hadn't been for dumb chance. The simple chance of living next to a computer science professor, and being friends with his son, afforded me an opportunity I otherwise never would have had. By playing with my friend at his house, where the latest computers were being tinkered with, I witnessed first-hand the infancy and evolution of the home computer. Better still, I got to tinker with them myself. The fascination and passion have lasted my whole life. Like any parent, I want to pass on those things for which I have a passion. The older daughter, of whom I am proud, is still a PC gamer, so I can't drop the ball with JT and EM. It's so much easier to learn about computers as a child today, so how could I not give them the same opportunity?

JT began a few months ago by using Alice. He picked it up very quickly, and that same afternoon had created an animated story that he played over and over for us and anyone that came within ten feet. Then he would add more to the program, rinse, and repeat. We could see right away that Alice was a good start, but knew that its overly juvenile atmosphere was going to wear thin soon. We looked at Scratch, but it was similar to Alice and seemed to be targeted towards an even younger audience... which is fine. We'll most likely be using it to introduce concepts to EM. Then my wife found a book called Hello World!, by Warren Sande and his son Carter. What is not to like about a computer book by a father and son team?

Hello World! uses a scripting language called Python to teach programming because, A) it's fairly easy, B) it runs on most common platforms, and C) it costs nothing to download and use. I like the style of the book. Those "Idiot's guide to ABC" and "XYZ for Dummies" titles are not exactly a boost to your confidence. This book is a well done beginner's guide, without being insulting. A nifty touch was that the author had his son, a child, as proof reader. If something didn't make sense to Carter, then he put in extra notes and tips to explain it better. The writing gets the point across, but still manages to be lighthearted and entertaining, with comical illustrations any 5th grader (or their father) would enjoy. The feel of the book brings back the same feeling I got as a kid going through the Introduction to the Apple //e program, which was the first time I saw that computer programmers can express their sense of humor through their programs.

When I was a software developer, I was always learning something new because the field changes constantly. Sometimes this meant buying a book and teaching myself. Sometimes I didn't even have a book, I was just hacking away and figuring it out. In my opinion, this is the best way to learn something. For this reason, my approach with JT is to let him approach it himself, with his book, pretty much on his own. He can move forward at his own pace, trying out the instructions and exercises in the book as he goes. At the end of each chapter, I quiz him to make sure he's getting it. As he moves through each chapter I answer any questions that come up, and if he gets stuck, I'll help him debug his programs. If I find the bug, he has to do ten push-ups, so I always ask him if he's sure he has checked his code thoroughly. All that physical exercise will help to balance the mental exercise and make a sleek geek who can impress with his brain and his brawn.

I can't help but think, that here we have another example of the homeschooling advantage. If the boys were not learning at home, how much time would they spend waiting for buses, riding buses and learning to pass standardized tests? How much time will they now get to pursue independent study of their passions and interests? In so doing, they are learning how to learn - a skill so often neglected, and so rarely found.

*...always and forever...

No comments: