As a teenager, my parents always managed to let me spend carefree summers, be it camping and backpacking in the Sierras, driving from our San Fernando Valley home to Zuma beach, or simply wandering the neighborhood picking apricots from backyard trees. As our kids became teenagers, while many of their friends where pressed into unwelcome academic pursuits by their parents, my wife and I both shared the ideal of summer being a kid’s time for more carefree pursuits.
These days, of course, it is hard to keep kids away from their computer during the summer, where, despite even the most overbearing parent’s academic hopes, the laptop is destined for much non-academic use. So when your teenager is done with their outdoor activities for the day, here are three ideas which can provide more academic value than the latest social networking site, and I dare say perhaps even more academic value than that expensive summer school class you invested in.
#1. BlueJ and Greenfoot. No, these aren’t about bird watching or a new scouting organization, but one of the best ways for even young teenagers to learn computing programming using the Java language. Take it from the source, non other than one of the founders of the Java language, James Gosling, who’s recent blog discusses how his daughter learned Java. Sometimes you don’t want to listen to your dad, even if he did event it.
#2. Learn Python. While I hear some self-taught programmers say Java is passe and Python or other newer scripting languages are all you need to know, my computer science professor brother-in-law likes to point out to my teenage son and part time programmer that each type of language has its place in the world of computer science, and the best software architects should learn a traditional systems language like C, a higher level object oriented language like Java, and a scripting language like Python. And he and his daughter highly recommend Google’s online Python class as the best way to learn that language.
#3. No programming is required to enter the Microsoft Research Worldwide Telescope Contest where your teenager can use 3-D navigation to explore the universe and create an interactive and educational tour of his or her journey.
So, while I absolutely hope your teenager can get to the mountains, local beach, lakefront, or pool, or just walk around your own neighborhood this summer, when they turn their attention to online activities, I hope they find a few fun things to do of educational value.
One final plug for my current employer, if your teenager isn’t the outdoor or scientific type and insists on retail adventures, today is a perfect day to visit your nearest MacMall and win …, no not that, but the even newer, hotter, HP TouchPad.