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A Computer Skills Lesson For Homeschoolers
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A Computer Skills Lesson for Homeschoolers

I am a homeschoooling Dad and a self-taught computer scientist with over forty years in the Information Technology field.  I often have discussions with other homeschooling parents in which they ask my advice on how they can start their kids off on the study of programming and developing computer skills.  In this article I will present an approach in the form of a programming lesson that you can do in about one hour to start your kids along the path of developing personal computer (Windows PC) skills.

I have used the following 'introduction' to get my son started toward developing his computer skills when I homeschooled him.  Computer Skills is one of the required subjects in my state’s homeschool curriculum, as well as in many other states.  This approach will explore using the PC's command line interface and batch files to do repetitive tasks, such as starting word processing or spreadsheet documents, starting web sites, or running running other educational applications.  These tasks can have practical utility for homeschoolers.

Below I will give you an example of a simple batch file that can be used for the practical benefit of the homeschooled student.  First, though, I'll present some background information to provide some technical ‘context’.  When using your WIndows PC, the typical way you do so involves using the mouse, keyboard and the display screen.  Together these are referred to as the graphical user interface, or GUI (pronounced “gooey”).  With the GUI you start up programs and interact with them to do the things that you use your PC for every day.  These actions include reading email, doing word processing, playing games, and so on. But, in addition to this typical GUI interface to your PC, there is another, lesser known but vary useful one called the Command Line Interface, or CLI.  You can use the CLI to create "batch files", which allow you to do some pretty interesting things.

A batch file is a simple text file of a list of PC commands.  It can be created using the PC’s Notepad application.  See the attached image of the simple batch file.  Here are the details of this file.

Firstly, the batch file conatains only a few commands.  The purpose of these "PC commands" can be determined by reading their "Help"description for each one by starting the Command Line Interface by typing “CMD” in the Windows Start menu search box.  This will present you with a prompt at which you can type in the word "help" followed by the PC command you want to learn about.  For example, to learn about the "rem" (which stands for "remark") command, after the prompt type:

help rem

The system will respond with the description for the Remark command as follows:

Records comments (remarks) in a batch file or CONFIG.SYS.

REM [comment]

The first line tells you what the Remark (rem) command does, and the second line give you an example of how it is used.  You can do this for each PC command that you want a description of.  To learn about the ermaining PC commands in the batch file, type "help", followed by: "echo", "cd", "md", "start" and "copy".

Using batch files allows you to “group” together a selection of PC actions, effectively creating a "program", which you can then “execute” with a single click of your mouse.  The advantages of using the CLI and batch files in the homeschool setting is that PC commands are easily learned, allowing your child to quickly learn the skills to do many helpful actions for their homeschool studies.

While the PC's CLI is not as well-known as the PC's GUI, it is a very useful tool that can be used every day to easily and automatically do things such as startup a Notepad text file for keeping homeschool notes, and starting other PC applications that homeschool students might use daily.

While the small batch file presented here is just an introduction to a simple programming capability of the Windows PC, the concepts underlying it can be easity expanded upon to do other useful tasks.  This "programming tip", which is useful for homeschoolers who want to develop computer skills, is only one of the tips you can learn about at Academic Boot Camp Tips.  In our community you can follow along with these tips and also participate with us as we explore it and others that you can find there.


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