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Posts Tagged ‘Mosaic Reviews’


TeenCoder™ Logo image of professor reclining by the words TeenCoder Java Series.

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.

 

This is a screen shot showing the working braille window in the Eclipse IDE program.

This is a screen shot showing the working braille window in the Eclipse IDE program.

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!

I have received a copy of the above product to help facilitate a frank and honest review. A positive review is not guaranteed. All opinions are my own. Your results and opinions may vary.

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The Classical Historian Go Fish card game deck showing Ancient History categoryThere is a simple, but interesting way to commit to memory those often tedious bits of information in history like people, places, general chronology. The homeschooling parents of The Classical Historian have taken old card game formats and applied them as new tricks for a tired, old dog called flash cards.

These cards are really more than flash cards, but the analogy still holds. Each card contains the information covered in a chapter  or more of a history book in a simple format for seeing and understanding while giving the freedom to do several game formats to spice up learning with fun and make remembering the facts easier.

The four card games that The Classical Historian brings to you with their set is Go Fish, Collect the Cards, Chronology, and Continents. With the simplest, Collect the Cards, the student will get familiar with pronouncing the name, repeat visually seeing the spelling, picture, and simple facts including category, and a time frame code. Simply asking for the names of cards to complete their set of four of a kind, the student is practicing memory skills. The other three games reinforces memory of facts, time, and place about each card in the deck. Two of the games which are played against a clock can even be played alone, if required, by trying to improve their own personal best at placing cards in the proper time order or under the correct continent the cards were found. Whether alone or in a group, the games are as fun as the original games, but teach even more now.

Game card of Cincinnatus overlaid with clear plastic brailled with card information.

You may be wondering how I played such a game designed for typical people meaning hearing and sighted. Well, my husband told me in fingerspelling what was on each card and even where (I used to see, so I understand visual placement). Using that information, I brailled a piece of clear plastic for each card. I did this in using a regular braille slate and stylus. For example, I also used a larger sheet of plastic to braille a separate “card” using jumbo braille as some older or younger students might need. The sheets are bigger in jumbo braille, of course, but for a blind child or adult playing with children, it is still quite usable. Yes, it can take some time to braille all these cards in either size, but the joy of playing a game and especially a learning game is worth the effort. I have lots of games that I still play with my husband that we have tactiled in various ways. Sometimes, we may even have to modify play slightly, but it doesn’t prevent us from enjoying the game or our quality time together. Be open and creative. It is worth the effort.Clear plastic brailled with card info to be used in the Go Fish games.

The Classical Historian sells the card games in three categories: Ancient History, Medieval History, and American History. You will also find on their website, classicalhistorian.com, A Memory game format covering these categories and other curriculum resources. The Go Fish card games are $11.95 each. You will find there is replay value (fun to play again and again) in the games, and the game cards are very durable which makes them worth the price.

I have received a copy of the above product to help facilitate a frank and honest review. A positive review is not guaranteed. All opinions are my own. Your results and opinions may vary.

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Just how are we supposed to answer such big questions from children when they are big questions with no visible, concrete answers even for us? That is especially difficult when you know a lot rides on that answer. One such question is about the existence of God? How do we know God is Really There? is a book by Melissa Cain Travis and illustrated by Christopher Voss and published by Apologia that might get you started with your little ones and maybe, even firm the debate dialogue in your own mind.

Book cover pic of a father and child reading a the book together.

The story is a simple plot that plays out in many bedrooms, kitchens, backyards, and yes, treehouses over and over. A mother and child or a father and child playing and learning together when a child suddenly asks that question that makes our mind jerk to a halt and releases the feelings of inadequacy and even a little fear as the questions of our own spill into our mind. What? How did we get here now? How can I possibly explain this to him when I can’t always put words to this myself? How do I tell her that I just know God exists because I see Him everywhere when He is invisible? Using wonderful illustrations that look drawn by a child and almost real enough to touch the crayon wax and words that fill your mind with awe and lead you through a rational discovery through the known ideas of science to the abstract thinking in a step by step path to the only conclusion that makes sense of a person who chose to create the world and has the power to do it. You end with a pretty powerful answer to that all-important question: How Do We Know God is Really There?

Father and son looking at Saturn through a telescope as they explore God's creation.

The  book’s scientific content does seem a bit weighty for very young children, but it can be a good read-to-me book for five to eight year olds and a good read together book for up to about ten or eleven with some children. The concept though can be used in conversations beyond that age level. Many young children and some special needs children may not get all the deep content the first time, but they will get the gist that can be grown through repeated readings as they grow older. The analogy to to rewinding a video is a humorous way of toning down that weighty science material. if it isn’t enough, the idea might lead you to something even better that your child will understand, so don’t fear giving this book a chance.

Father and son discussing how they can know God is really there by exploring his creation and knowing it was created by a loving, all powerful Creator, God.

You can find this book on Apologia’s web site to get more information or to order. The price is $16.00 for a durable, glossy, full-color hardback copy. That is affordable, but is it worth it? Three parents that I asked to read the book felt it was a great way to handle this tough question. Two students I read it to, including one in ASL, got really big-eyed and curious and really loved the pictures. The book got even the four year old who happened to be listening, too, talking about how “God is so big and can do anything.” That delight was enough for me to make it a part of our library permanently.

I have received a copy of the above product to help facilitate a frank and honest review. A positive review is not guaranteed. All opinions are my own. Your results and opinions may vary.

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The three covers of the Ultimate Student Planner, Ultimate Teen Planner at the top, and the Ultimate Planner for the teacher at the bottom showing the system.

The Ultimate Planner System with the teacher’s Ultimate, the Student and the Teen’s planners integrated to tame the chaos.

Photo Apr 03, 2 06 45 PMPlanners? You may be wondering why I am reviewing planners when I can’t see to use them. Well, I love planners. I have to use computer planners now, but I used to love my Day Timer when I could see. My life was so full that if I lost my Day Timer I would have a heart attack. I came close once, and that was a lesson enough to always keep it handy. When I taught school, I had a lesson plan notebook. It did its job, but without flair and whimsy. I always searched for something that I felt showed my personality and gave me features that I wanted to use. I was never successful. Lesson plan books were so boring back then. Times change. Good things come to those who wait. As a homeschool teacher, I needed a Day Timer and lesson plan book combined and more. How do you put it all together to keep you together and your students on track. Apologia has some nice planners for homeschool students and teachers. I recently got to hold all three of their planners: The Ultimate Weekly Planner for Teens, The Ultimate Daily Planner for Students, and The Ultimate Homeschool Planner. All three are designed by Debra Bell, author of The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling with many features allowing flexibility for your needs.

The Ultimate Daily Planner for Students is bright and colorful with blank monthly grids and undated weekly assignment pages to allow the planner to fit anyone’s school calendar. There are Scripture verses and trivia questions alternating across the tops of the calendar and assignment pages teaching lessons of life disguised as fun facts and musings. There are a few pages at the beginning that let the students fill out their favorite verses, music, best friends, colors, desires, and dreams to record a little snap shot of who they are in this one year. There is also a little guide to how to study to get the student started on a life-long process of organizing and learning to help them also love to learn. There are history timelines, a clear ruler, scientific method flow chart, geography features, math facts and more to help them have useful information handy. The student can keep up with their grades, reading list, physical exercise  plans, and activities all in one place to keep them on track. I love the little calendar stickers to highlight certain events in a fun way. These are all kept in a spiral-bound, durable book built to stand up to life’s happenings in a young student’s life.

The Ultimate Weekly Planner for Teens is very similar, but dressed for the more mature. Knowing that college and career preparation is becoming more intense the Scripture and facts at the top of the pages are replaced with vocabulary words for SAT and other testing preparation. More space is allotted for more classes and a credit track guide is added to help the student get what is needed on that journey. There are also calendar pages for a few years into the future because teens have to look further ahead than when they were younger. There are still stickers because no one truly outgrows those. Though the cover is a little more mature, it is just as durable because this planner will probably go further than just the bedroom desk and floor.

The Ultimate Homeschool Planner is for the orchestra leader of all that is magical and necessary in the homeschooling lives of your family. It, too, is bright, cheerful, and durable for all the chaos in and out of the home where learning takes place including the kitchen with its soup and the dirty, wet bleachers of the soccer field. With similar features like Scripture and quotes from famous people, monthly and weekly grids, The Ultimate Homeschool Planner fits in nicely with the student and teen planners, but it goes further than that. The thing I love the most is that the three planners are actually part of a system helping you to orchestrate your homeschool and life activities coordinating with your students to keep everyone on the same page, but also learning organization skills and planning strategies for school and life now and into the future. With a user guide explaining the system and how to do yearly, monthly, and weekly planning for yourself and with your students (up to six students easily), and Monday Morning Tutorials (to help your students work in their planners) and Friday Afternoon Reviews to discuss the week and providing accountability, encouragement, and support, the planner system takes you easily through a year better able to handle the chaos that can come.You can set goals for each student, set up pre-planning guides to prioritize family needs and activities, set up resource lists needed for each student letting you know what to gather before it is needed. Another favorite feature of mine is The Lord’s Day which is the beginning of your weekly plan. You begin in a quiet place recounting God’s faithfulness during the prior week and committing to make God’s Word the key of your plan for peace. As you find areas that you are vulnerable in, you can create a battle plan to strengthen your resolve along with fighter verses you can write to refer to during the week to help you stay on track. There is even a list of these verses available free on DesiringGod.org. This along with your Friday Reviews with each student gets you started and ended in a better place each week and ready to tackle the next week. This really is one of the best designed programs I have seen and the first that truly makes the teacher and student planners coordinate and integrate for learning organizational skills and provide growth from year to year. Add the teaching tips and the year-end review helper, and you have a system that carries you forward.

As a former public school teacher, I could have used many of these features even for a classroom of forty students to keep my head in the game, and my spirit where it needed to be for my students despite these planners being focused for homeschoolers. As a homeschool teacher, I know that it fits the homeschool lifestyle to a tee with structure and flexibility to suit most families’ needs.

The prices also fit the need, too, as The Ultimate Homeschool Planner is $28.00 and The Ultimate Daily Planner for Students is $19.00, and The Ultimate Weekly Planner for Teens is also $19.00. These are affordable prices for taming the chaos and imparting skills for growth. My only wish is I had these kind of features in a digital, non-visual based planner that I could use. Well, we can’t have everything we want, but it is nice to know that some things are taming the homeschool chaos.

Check them out on Apologia’s website.

I have received a copy of the above products to help facilitate the writing of a frank and honest review. A positive review is not guaranteed. All opinions are my own. Your results and opinions may vary.

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