Sunday 23 June 2013

Cheap computer programming course for kids

DS1 has been interested in computing since he was quite young, and has enjoyed extracurricular activities such as the Lego MindStorms robotics course I provided at his primary school (his team competed in the RoboCupJunior event a few years ago), and the Year 9/10 IST (Information Science and Technology) course he began this year (while in year 8) via distance education from NBSC (Northern Beaches Secondary College) through their HSC.LearnOnline. Despite starting the IST course a year earlier (I presume) than the other eight kids that are enrolled in the course, he's consistently ranked first in nearly all the marked assignments, as is having a great time. The benefits of doing the IST course via distance education rather than enrolling in that subject at his selective high school next year are that a) he gets to do the subject as a slightly 'accelerated' student, b) that in turn means that he can also do the Year 11/12 Software Design & Development course while he is in Year 10/11 (and count the mark towards his uni entrance ATAR score, if he does well enough), and c) doing the IST and PDD subjects externally allows him to do choose another subject to study in Years 9-12. My general philosophy for G&T education is to 'broaden' the range of studies taken, rather than focus on accelerating one subject.

Since he's interested in programming, DS1 started a 'computing club' at his school this year, and is hoping to line up enough other students to form a team to enter the AIO (Australian Informatics Olympiad) competition next term (and possible also enter the UNSW ProgComp). He's previously self-taught (with a bit of help from me) in simple computer programming using Python and VisualBasic, but without doing any formal courses in programming there are still some 'gaps' in his basic programming knowledge. So, I've paid for him to enrol in the NCSS (National Computer Science School) 'Challenge' computing course/competition run annually by the University of Sydney through their spin-off venture 'Grok Learning'. At $20 each for the 'Beginner' and 'Intermediate' 5-week course/competition it seems quite good value. Although there are good, free resources available for children to learn Python programming (such as the excellent eBook 'Snake Wrangling for Kids'), doing an online course with deadlines and marked assignments provides greater motivation, especially when there is a certificate from the University of Sydney at the end of the competition showing the level of participation and achievement.

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