Learning Python, JavaScript And Raspberry Pi With Dummies

Last month, my wife, Jenn, shared about "Learning Digital Filmmaking with Dummies". While she and my son, AJ, are away on a mission trip to East Malaysia, I took this golden opportunity to share my review on these 3 books.

If you wondered why I didn't join them. Not that I don't want to, I couldn't take leave from my teaching. :(

Time flies - it’s been 25 years since the first of the ‘For Dummies’ series of instructional and reference books was published in November 1991. The series has achieved worldwide recognition and success as the go-to source for their non-intimidating guides to anything from beekeeping to YouTube, although the primary focus is still on IT and computer-related topics.

In November 2014, the John Wiley and Sons publishing company (Wiley for short), the owner of the ‘For Dummies’ franchise since 2001, launched the first installment in the For Kids For Dummies, to help introduce kids to coding and related topics.

I’ve approached these three titles here - Python for Kids, JavaScript for Kids and Raspberry Pi for Kids, from two perspectives. 

Firstly, as a father to my ten-year-old, who is a self-proclaimed fan of computer programming and things IT (but not computer games, which his parents frown upon as a negative influence).  I am always on a lookout for suitable materials that will pique, sustain and develop his interest, which should not be too out of reach which many introductory books can be, e.g. with jokes about in-laws or income tax, and a generally more adult world view.  On the other hand, not too elementary to leave him with a ‘been there done that feeling’ - e.g. yet another book on learning to program with Scratch.

Secondly, as an instructor in a local polytechnic, with a continual interest in finding new ideas and approaches to make IT topics interesting, less stressful, more enjoyable and personally satisfying for my students. A lot harder than it sounds, because programming and IT may not exactly be the coolest (or hottest) preoccupation for most people in their late teens/early twenties, compared with the latest fashion, Hollywood stars, opposite sex, etc.

Excerpt from the Introduction of Raspberry Pi for Kids

From the two perspectives above, there are many good things to say about these books:

  • Each title has the blurb “X Fun Projects” above the title on the cover page, where X is a number that varies by title. So ‘Fun’ is literally the first word of each title!
  • The fun theme is followed through with a lively and colourful layout throughout the pages of each title. Compared to typical For Dummies books, there are more use of colour in the headings, diagrams and photos. The font size is also bigger (small fonts turn kids off) and white (instead of yellow) paper is used.   
  • The authors know both their stuff and their audience, with considerable experience in teaching. Their approach demonstrates great care in guiding their readers gradually, from the preparatory steps (that often include getting familiar with and/or installing a new computer program) onwards.
  • The approach taken in all the titles is learning by doing. The authors endeavour to explain just enough for the reader to have the most basic understanding so that they can move on to the next topic. 
  • In such titles, knowing what to leave out is as important as what to include, in both respects care has been shown by all the authors in selecting content which balances learning with the appropriate challenge levels and fun. For example JSFiddle, introduced in the JavaScript title, is a good tool to let readers understand the relationship between Javascript, HTML and CSS while having fun with the animated programs the authors have created. 
  • In line with the For Dummies series, each title has an Introduction and Foolish Assumptions (about the reader) sections. The authors have used them well to set the expectations of their readers - what they can hope to achieve after completing the books, the activities they will be involved in, as well as encouragement to ‘hang in there’ and ‘don’t give up’.  The excerpt above is a good example, taken from the Introduction of Raspberry Pi volume, which is the most demanding of the three titles - for a start, it requires an additional investment of hardware (thankfully below $150).

To summarise, the books are educational, fun and accessible as an introduction to the respective topics. Readers with the correct mindsets and expectations will benefit. It’s a good first step to learning that will open up possibilities for further development of skills and knowledge. 

References - includes table of contents and sample excerpts for each title
Python for Kids

JavaScript for Kids


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