We have been reviewing a new book called Code for Teens: The Awesome Beginner’s Guide to Programming (Volume 1).
Wait…why am I reviewing this book when I’m not a teen and don’t have teenage kids?! Well, I am a blogger, and I do take care of everything to run my site, so coding knowledge comes in handy. I took a web design class waaaaaaay back in college (circa 2002) and learned HTML and CSS, so I could do basic site design without using a system like WordPress (which is what I currently use).
1) The Author is “One of Us”
Jeremy Moritz wrote the book and his wife illustrated it, and they homeschool their six children! So, they are a large family like we are, but more importantly, they are homeschoolers themselves. I always want to support companies run by homeschool parents, so I naturally gravitated toward this. Plus it’s always interesting to see how homeschoolers teach things, as many are outside-the-box thinkers and have a unique way of presenting information.
2) Written With Teens in Mind
Duh. But the language is not overly simplified to the point where it feels like it’s talking down to you. It also includes “dad jokes” (which he freely admits) to keep things light and inject some humor into a subject that is sort of dry at times.
3) Learning in Chunks
Concepts are divided into chapters that are easily understood and then built upon in later chapters. They are easily digestible in a single sitting, at least for me. I would guess it would be fine for teens as well. It took me about an hour to read through a chapter and do the associated work, although it started taking a little longer as I got further into the book. There is a glossary to use if you can’t remember what everything means.
There are lots of examples, and at the end of each chapter, you’ll find:
- a quiz
- an overview of key concepts from the chapter
- an aggregate review that covers the book up to that point
- a DIY project for you to work in the console
They encourage you to make a “workbook” that contains your answers. I did some of this in Google Docs and also used the notepad on my phone for when I wasn’t at the computer. Here is part of my work from chapter 1. I didn’t end up having my daughter do this part.
4) Hands-On Practice
There is a “Follow Along” section in each chapter, plus tons of examples for you to type out so you can get a feel for how to write the code. Jeremy explains that this is literally another language to learn – it’s just a programming language that needs an interpreter (our computers). Thus, writing it out is very helpful in learning the proper spacing, capitalization, punctuation…just like when we learn English.
5) Practical Learning
The skills learned in this book can be applied in real life, and there is a big emphasis on that. I like that it stresses this from the outset. Coding will be a skill that is much more necessary for our kids to know versus my generation (and even in my generation, it’s becoming more beneficial to have these abilities – I’m part of the “Xennial” generation). Jeremy approaches this from the standpoint of a professional developer, so he knows the ins and outs of what is truly needed: the right skills to know and the right ways of doing those skills. He knows what is expected in this industry and that is what he teaches. He frequently points out a lot of the realities of what developers prefer when it comes to how to write things, since sometimes there are multiple ways of doing the same task.
My opinion is that it’s so important for kids to see a practical future in what they are doing; it helps hold their interest and helps them see the bigger picture. Some of the examples, drills, and DIY projects are just for fun, but many are practical, such as writing an author bio, filtering out a list by age, and if-then operations.
How We Used It
Well, my plan for teaching my daughter didn’t pan out as well as I’d hoped. If she was a strong reader and was more familiar with the keyboard and how to spell, she would be totally into this. But it was a little difficult (for both of us) for her to painstakingly type what I was telling her (reading straight from the book). She was interested in it, but applying the skills right now is just too time consuming, and I don’t think she would truly understand it. For her, we’ll pick this back up in a year or two when she is reading better and has more keyboarding experience. The full color pages and reasonably large text will make it easier on her to study when she’s ready.
For me, I have found it interesting to work through the book. As with many topics, you have to learn the more dry material before moving on to the cool stuff. The boring stuff is necessary, though, and Jeremy talks in chapter 3 about how concatenating (putting together) strings is something most developers don’t get excited about, but it has to be done as the foundation upon which to build the cool stuff. I tried to skip chapter 2 as it seemed to be more about math calculations, but I got tripped up a little in chapter 3 when he was reviewing previous material, so I had to go back and reference chapter 2 so I could fully understand things. I would not suggest skipping around.
PIN IT FOR LATER! Continued below….
I would say the one downside for my family is that the book refers to superheros a lot (as the cover alludes to). We don’t do a lot of characters in our home, and we do not do Harry Potter at all, and the book does bring them up quite a bit due to the main theme of the book (that coding is a superpower). I think for a teen who has an established worldview, this may not be as big a deal as you can pretty easily disregard that language in the book. But for a younger child like mine, we did skip all of that talk, and when we bring this out when they are older and more able to do the work on the computer themselves, it might be something we have a more direct discussion about. If your family is likeminded, just be aware of this. It honestly would not stop me from purchasing the book, though.
Other members of the Homeschool Review Crew (64 of them!) were also using this book with their families over the last few weeks. Please take a look at some of the other reviews to find out what the other families think about Code for Teens!