Computer Science For Kids: Beginning Microsoft Small Basic
Kids who want to make video games? Check. More questions than answers? Check. Now, where to turn? Umm… Computer Science for Kids is here to help, with their Beginning Microsoft Small Basic curriculum.
Small Basic, what’s that?
Beginning Microsoft Small Basic has eleven chapters. The first explains the purpose and history of Small Basic and compares it with predecessors and contemporary programming languages. Later chapters lead the student through the components of Small Basic and creating your first program, along with obtaining random numbers, decision-making instructions, looping and subroutines, working with graphics and animation, and even an essential skill, debugging. It finishes by teaching more Small Basic programs, along with a comparison of Small Basic code with that several other programming languages, include Visual Basic, Visual C#, and Java.Most programming languages are designed to do all sorts of high-tech things on the computer, with the end product in mind. Small Basic is different; created with one purpose – ease of learning – this simplified language is perfect for complete beginners learning common programming concepts.
How much does Beginning Microsoft Visual Basic cost?
There are two homeschool purchase options for Beginning Microsoft Small Basic. The first includes both a print paperback textbook plus a downloadable ebook version for $59.95, with free shipping in the U.S., while the second is a paper-saving ebook-only instant download, priced at just $34.95. (We reviewed the Instant Download version. Quoted SALE prices currently listed on the Computer Science For Kids website are effective until July 4, 2013.)
What is included in Beginning Microsoft Visual Basic?
The Beginning Microsoft Small Basic tutorials are used in conjunction with Small Basic software, free to download at www.smallbasic.com. (Download and installation instructions are included in the curriculum.) The textbook has over 500 pages of combined instruction (called “Class Notes”) and examples.
The downloadable ebook has the same length, but they’re organized a bit differently than I anticipated. I’m used to a textbook that arrives as one primary text, possibly with an additional worksheet file… instead, the download we received had both .doc files and .pdf files – a file for each chapter, plus additional files for a “Start Here” page, the table of contents, and an appendix. (The website states that the ebook is in just .doc format, and needs Word to open the files. Open Office would be a good (free) substitute for those that don’t have access to Word.)
Despite my high level of comfort with computers, opening up the file and discovering a plethora of PDFs and DOCs was a bit overwhelming – I was grateful that the “Start Here” page was included, because otherwise, I would have wondered what to open first. Too bad the “Start Here” page was at the bottom of the list – that whole alphabetization thing, you know. I’m not so sure I’d call that newbie-friendly… one PDF would suffice, and it wouldn’t be a huge file, either… 15 mb is a quick download for most people.
Once I dove into the files, I discovered pages that are pleasantly formatted to be easy on the eye, and include a moderate amount of color images. Many of those images I could do without – they’re there to highlight section titles – but the examples, of two types, are also in color. Color images show sample screen shots, while snippets of code are color-coded. Might be able to get by with those screen shots in black & white, but the colors in the code snippets help make it much easier to read. I wish they’d thought of those who desire to be frugal with ink, but I understand that the decorative images are used to liven things up and make the chunks of text a bit more kid-friendly.
What do we need to use this curriculum?
One warning – you’ll need to have a computer running Windows, version XP-SP2, Vista, or 7, with Microsoft .NET 3.5 installed, to run Small Basic. (Instruction on how to install Microsoft .NET, if needed, are also included in Chapter 1.) You’ll also want a printer and plenty of paper if you intend to purchase only the ebook and wish to print it out. For longevity with multiple students, consider sheet protectors and a three-ring binder.
What ages is Beginning Microsoft Visual Basic for?
Given the non-consumable nature of the materials, Beginning Microsoft Small Basic may be used with multiple family members. Computer Science for Kids recommends it for ages 10 – Adult. My kids suggest that it might be usable with even younger students, say 7 or 8, provided the student is a fluent reader and has sufficient interest and attention span. On the flip side, an 11 or 12-yr-old who is a struggling reader, or has a limited attention span, might well have trouble with it. You know your kids best, and you’ll have to go with your own judgment on whether or not they’d be ready for this curriculum.
Is my student ready for Beginning Microsoft Visual Basic?
In addition to reading and focus, there are other things that this curriculum assumes a student already knows how to do, and so does not teach it. These skills include:
- Basics like starting and shutting down the computer, using a mouse, and starting applications.
- Moving and resizing windows, along with how to fill in dialog boxes that pop up
- Understanding files and folders, plus how to find and create them.
- Comprehend file extensions and how to find them.
- Accessing the internet, clicking on links to visit other pages, and downloading files.
What kind of teaching style is Beginning Microsoft Small Basic recommended for?
It’s written for independent learning, so the teacher may be as hands-on – or off – as they desire. Younger students or those with less confidence may need more guidance, but the plus with this curriculum is that it’s easy for you to learn, too.
How much teacher preparation is required for Beginning Microsoft Small Basic?
Unless you have a timid computer science student, the largest time commitment will be during initial set-up for installation and ensuring that your student has a clear understanding of the basics. After that, reserve plenty of time for admiring the results of their hard work – it’s vitally important for encouraging their continual motivation.
What learning styles does Beginning Microsoft Small Basic work well for?
Confident self-starters will thrive on this curriculum – chances are, they’ll be working ahead before you know it. The frequent fruits of their progress – success in a working program – will nudge even skeptical students into enthusiasm and improved motivation.
How does Computer Science For Kids recommend the product be used?
The suggested schedule is that students work on one class (lesson) per week for ten weeks, which is anticipated to take 3-6 hours per week. If the ebook is the version obtained, the class should first be printed out and made available to the student – then they’ll work through the lessons in the text over the course of the week.
How did we use Beginning Microsoft Small Basic?
Pretty much as recommended, for my younger two students. I asked my oldest, who has already completed courses in Visual Basic and C#, to try it out and share some of his thoughts with me – his primary impression is that “it’s like a very simplified version of Visual Basic” and the “interface is easy on the eyes.”
What did I like about Beginning Microsoft Small Basic? What does it do well?
It’s incredibly user-friendly to read, no intimidation aspect at all. My younger two are a bit uncertain at the idea of being able to program; they’re not sure they’re “old” (read skilled) enough to competently do it, so it’s been a matter of avoidance. In comparison with other “beginner” curricula we’ve used, Beginning Microsoft Small Basic is definitely a step in the “simple and easy” direction. Once they’ve been through this program, I believe they’ll be much more prepared for Visual Basic.
What do I dislike about Beginning Microsoft Small Basic? What could it do better? How could it be improved?
The zillion files in the ebook download are utterly ridiculous. And selling ebooks in .doc format? This is the first ebook I’ve seen released for sale in .doc in more years than I can guess at. I understand that the creation pre-dates ebook popularity, but I’ve been purchasing single-PDF ebooks for over a decade now, and they’re no trouble to use, even at higher page counts. Please, save someone’s sanity and update this!
Also, while the kid-pictures and other assorted images are cute, they’re not really necessary to the book. If these were absent or in black & white in the file, the parent could print all of the pages out, even the ones that *must* be in color, without making such a huge dent in their ink supplies.
If you really feel a need for multiple files in the ebook download, drop those individual chapters – they’re annoying – and instead create one version for color printing, and one for black & white. Customers will thank you for preserving both their sanity and their printer ink budget.
Have I been surprised or impressed with certain aspects of Beginning Microsoft Small Basic?
The programming language comparison in the final chapter is an excellent idea. It’s almost as if they’re saying, “See? That wasn’t so hard. And look at all these languages, why, they work almost the same way. There’s just these *little* differences… and that approach makes it all the more likely that students will continue their studies in computer science by moving on to a production language.
Would I recommend Beginning Microsoft Small Basic? To whom?
Absolutely, despite the obnoxious formatting choices. While Beginning Microsoft Small Basic is a perfect beginners curriculum for any learner, there is one particular situation it would be ideal for. If you – like I did – obtained a “beginner’s” curriculum for your child, and even though it was Visual Basic, once of the simpler languages, they were still overwhelmed to the point where there was no point to moving forward no matter how much their desire… THAT is when I would recommend bringing Beginning Microsoft Small Basic in to save the situation. It is so much less intimidating than the other languages, they were able to focus on the concepts, not the syntax, regaining their courage and preparing them for future learning.
What did my children think of Beginning Microsoft Small Basic?
My younger two were initially skeptical (Chey) and interested (Chris). My oldest thought it was sort of silly that I wanted him to take a look at it, until I assured him, that as the resident coding expert, he was more qualified than I to give opinions from that end of the spectrum.
C & C have found it much easier to acclimate to then previous curricula they’ve attempted to use. After completing this, I think it likely that they will eventually move on to more difficult tasks, though I suspect if I point out the examples at www.smallbasic.com, we might lose them there for a while.
Mr. Expert, however, was quite surprised. He’d anticipated “dumbed-down” and instead found “a clean, user-friendly interface supported by curricula with lots of pictures to illustrate what you’re doing. It’d be a good precursor to learning Visual Basic to get a conceptual idea of how it works.”
What other products are available from Computer Science For Kids?
An alternative curriculum, Computer Bible Games For Microsoft Small Basic, was also reviewed by Schoolhouse Crew members. Most of the text is the same; additional information is included with instructions for programming simple bible games. The purchasing options are identical to their secular counterparts.
Computer Science For Kids also sells curricula for Visual Basic, C# and Java programming languages.
Is there anything else I’d like to share about Beginning Microsoft Small Basic?
I don’t mention the formatting with the intent to be mean; it’s just that I’m unwilling to ignore a factor that might strongly influence a customer’s satisfaction with a product. Granted, the formatting is clearly stated on their website – and I appreciate their honesty in that regard – but an ebook being sold in .doc format in 2013 would make me seriously hesitate to fork over $34.95 for it, no matter what positives I’d heard or how it might appeal. It screams of unprofessionalism at worst, lackadaisical at best – and I truly think it would be in their best interest to change it – especially since it’s so easy to do in Word.