Teaching Kids to Program

I was at my daughter’s softball game last night and a fellow parent asked me about teaching kids to program. I get the question a lot. In this case the kids were 7-10 years old, but the range has run the gamut from 5 to 18. Good news: I don’t think resources for this have ever been better or easier to come by.

Here are a handful of resources I recommend.

  • http://pluralsight.com/training/Courses/TableOfContents/teaching-kids-programming This is by far the best course I’ve come across. It seems to be geared toward kids in the elementary and middleschool age range. High school students may find the tone of the course skews too young for them, but if they can suppress their egos for a few hours it’s a fun course for them as well. What makes this a great course is that the target audience is just as much parents as it is kids. It focuses as much on the how to teach as the what to teach. It uses C#/.NET.
  • http://www.teachingkidsprogramming.com/ The two authors of the above course also run this site. The concepts I think are be similar to the above, but it looks like they use SmallBasic as a language. Full disclosure: I haven’t personally used this site.
  • http://pluralsight.com/training/Courses/TableOfContents/javascript-from-scratch Though not one of the free resources, this course looks very promising if you want to use JavaScript as your language of choice for learning. I haven’t used this course either, but on the reputation of Pluralsight and Jesse Liberty, the course author, I’d say this is likely a very good course and well worth the subscription cost. Pluralsight has 7 other courses also listed in the Beginner Programming section: http://pluralsight.com/training/Courses
  • http://www.code.org/ Code.org is a nonprofit that was launched fairly recently with the goal of increasing programming proficiency among students. Their site has an ever growing list of resources.
  • http://channel9.msdn.com Channel 9 is a Microsoft community around development. It’s basically an enormous stockpile of technology videos covering topics for all skill levels. I found this specific list published there for beginners: http://channel9.msdn.com/posts/Beginner
  • http://microsoftvirtualacademy.com. Microsoft has Virtual Academy, It’s free, but it’s geared as much toward professionals as beginners.

In order to write code, you’ll need a tool to develop in. Many of the resources out there are geared toward a specific development environment and they will probably take you through steps of setting up that particular set of tools. I happen to think the Microsoft tooling is the best available. A well kept secret (or a poorly publicized benefit) is that Microsoft has a whole set of tooling available for free.

DreamSpark, https://www.dreamspark.com/what-is-dreamspark.aspx, is a Microsoft program that gives students free access to a large number of professional tools and resources. It will get you access to the full blown version of Visual Studio, which is what professional developers use to create Microsoft applications.

Microsoft also produces a set of free development tools that go under the Visual Studio 2012 Express for… moniker. The Express versions of Visual Studio are limited when compared with the full version of the product, but are outstanding none the less. I’ve yet to find any other free development environment that compares to these tools. You can find them all available for download here: http://www.microsoft.com/visualstudio/eng/downloads#d-express-windows-8. The version you need depends on what you want to develop. NOTE, I think the Visual Studio 2012 versions only run on Windows 8. If you are using Windows 7 or XP, just scroll down to the next section and grab the Visual Studio Express 2010 version.

SharePoem – ugh

You don’t see a lot of SharePoint poetry out there and there’s a reason for that – it would be terrible.  However, some of you may enjoy a bit of terrible niche poetry on a Monday morning.  For you yet-to-be-institutionalized folk out there I’m posting this piece that I wrote for a coworker.  I run my company’s internal SharePoint Group and Mike was our featured speaker last week. Since our meeting invitations go out through the company news letter, I try to keep them from being too bland.

Michael McNett is McNuts about SharePoint.
He’s a fan of Fast Search and a Friend to refining.
Content types make him cry like he’s christened a son.
Extranets excite him and his eyes you’d see shining
If integrating InfoPath is the job to be done.
Populating profile properties is Mike’s thrill.
He loves publishing the perfect profile post.
His RoadMap is no ruse. If you need things done right,
It’s the best way to ensure that your timeline is tight.

BTW, you can find Mike’s through his blog,http://mmcnett.wordpress.com/, on LinkedIn or twitter (@CIO_Mike)

Xbox Dead Nooooooo!!

Tried to fire up the 360 this weekend only to get a single red light accompanied by an onscreen E 74 error. The support page tells me to send it back for fixing @$99. I bought mine as a refurb about 18 months ago so it’s not covered under warranty. On the bright side, there’s no warranty to void, so I broke this thing down to the motherboard –twice. I’ve reset the heat sinks with no luck. Tonight I might try ‘baking’ it. I don’t want to. It sounds absurd to me that it would work, but I’ve been told first hand that it does work, so I’ll give it a try. I’ll let you know if it works.

A couple things struck me during the attempted fix:

  1. It’s really a pretty simple device inside. It’s pretty much just a motherboard, a dvd drive, some big heat sinks, and, oh yeah, a couple really loud fans.

It gets HOT. Yeah, you’ve heard the Xbox gets hot. I’ve heard the Xbox gets hot. But I was shocked at how hot it gets and how fast it gets that hot. These heat sings are enormous. One of them stands about 3-4 inches tall, the other is short, but has a secondary sink on a copper rod about 4 inches away. When I first saw them, I thought “How can these things overheat? It looks to me like they should be almost entirely passively cooled.” Then I started the thing up – You can feel the heat on the sinks after about 5 seconds and they will burn your hand after about 15-20 seconds. What the hell is going on in there? I’m not even playing a game at this point. How graphically or processor intensive is it to boot and display an error message? I’m no longer surprised that these things die. I’m surprised they aren’t bursting into flames.