Tech Camps Prepare Kids to Code, Calculate and Create
For some people, the words “summer camp” conjure up fond images of swimming, hiking and campfires. Others are more apt to think of sunburns, poison ivy and mosquitos. Let’s face it, traditional summer camps aren’t fun for everyone.
The good news is that there’s been a dramatic rise in recent years in the variety of summer programs available for kids in the Merrimack Valley, some with no sunblock or bug repellant required. Camps with a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) focus have gained in popularity, with more and more programs popping up.
If you’re looking for classes or camps during the summer break, look no further.
Campers will design hovercrafts, create video games, or invent apps for the first time this year at Kaleidoscope, which will be offering about 20 new courses covering a wide range of interests.
Andover’s Janis Baron founded Kaleidoscope in 1981 to fill a void she saw in the variety of summer activities being offered.
“I really felt that summer options were very limited at that time,” she says. “Either you sent your child to a remedial summer program to catch up on things or to a traditional outdoor summer camp. There was a gap I saw for kids who really wanted to keep learning over the summer. As a teacher and mother and educator, that was important to me.”
Kaleidoscope started with an enrollment of about 50 campers, operating out of Andover public schools for 19 years before moving to Pike School in town, its current home. Kaleidoscope is offering 178 courses this summer and expects to serve about 750 campers ages 3-13 from 40 different communities.
Of the 20 or so new courses being offered at Kaleidoscope this year, a handful will focus on STEM disciplines. While STEM activities might be the latest trend, they’re not new for Baron, who notes, “We were offering STEM programs long before they called it STEM.”
Three one-week sessions will be run in July. Full-day programs are available with an early drop-off and extended day, but campers can also take one morning or afternoon course. Scholarships are available for qualifying families.
Executive Director of Marketing David Gutierrez prefers the term STEAM to describe the curriculum created by Empow Studios in 2013. The A stands for art, which encompasses much of the creativity that drives innovation. “The investment in schools is there,” Gutierrez says, “but the kids are not really learning about the technology … the coding, design. [For example,] the school may have a 3D printer, but it’s often undermaintenanced and underused.
“As a whole, we feel STEM or STEAM will be able to contribute to a number of global challenges that we face in the future. So our goal is to empower kids starting at a young age, so when they’re older they’re able to use skills that aren’t traditionally taught in school systems to solve things like hunger or clean water, global warming [and] poverty. Having innovative solutions to that can come from creating really innovative products, and can come from collaboration, so it’s our focus to teach some of these skills in a project-based learning environment.”
The instructors employed by Empow Studios travel to schools and youth programs throughout the school year. During the summer, instructors set up short-term “pop-up camps” in various locations. This summer, Empow Studios is offering pop-up camps with full-day and half-day one-week sessions in 16 towns, including Acton and Reading. Early drop-off, extended afternoon hours and scholarships are available.
In Acton, Empow’s summer camp will be held at Acton Congregational Church beginning on June 24. It commences with a session of Tech & Design Camp, where campers choose what they want to create, from video game design, robotics, animation, coding, 3D printing, music production and more. Java Coding Camp and Minecraft Camp are offered the week after that, followed by two more sessions of Tech & Design Camp, which recently passed Minecraft Camp as the most popular choice for campers, Gutierrez says.
Reading is a new location for Empow Studios this year, with a week of Tech & Design Camp beginning July 22, followed by a week of Minecraft Camp and Java Coding Camp at Austin Preparatory School. Empow Studios hopes to add more sessions and locations every year.
Westford Community Access Television
Young producers can learn how to create their own video at Westford Community Access Television (CAT). Campers develop their own story ideas, prepare costumes and props, and learn how to use the video and editing equipment to create a finished product. A viewing party is held at the end of each one-week session.
“They’re learning lots more than the technology,” says Marketing Outreach Manager Sarah Fletcher, who also prefers to use the acronym STEAM. “We turn STEM into STEAM because they’re acting and writing and being creative, as well as doing all that kind of technical editing. They’re managing their video, where to crop it and how to edit it, so they’re learning a lot.”
The program has been so well attended in past years that the two sessions offered are always full and often have a waiting list. Fletcher hopes Westford CAT will be able to add a third half-day session this summer to accommodate even more campers. “We have some kids that come back every summer. They have a blast,” she says.
In business since 1999, the self-proclaimed “world’s #1 summer tech camp for ages 7-19” is hosted locally by Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) and UMass Lowell. In addition to one-week full-day sessions at both locations, iD Tech offers overnight sessions at SNHU from June 24-Aug. 2, and financial assistance is available for qualifying families.
More than a dozen courses are offered, including “YouTube Gamecasting and Video Production,” “Fortnite Camp and Unreal Engine Level Design,” and “Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.” Part of iD Tech’s goal is to give kids skills that will help prepare them for the job market. The company seems to be succeeding in its mission: former students now hold positions at Microsoft, Electronic Arts Inc. and Warner Bros.