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My Behind The Scenes Diary Of A Kids Coding Camp

A Behind The Scenes Diary Of A Kids Coding Camp

Que the “Wayne’s World” flashback effect…

I shook his hand after the college graduation ceremony.  He was one of my best students and he reminded me it all started when he took my coding camp many years ago as a young kid. Thanks Fred.  I was really filled with a deep sense of pride even though he really did all the work.  I just provided the path that he chose.   Some campers became my assistants.  Some assistants later became college students of mine.  Those students then became software developers.  Simply put, getting kids interested in coding early, leads to great things. It works.  We parted ways as the graduation crowd dissipated.  He went on his journey and I would return to do it all over again.  A great cycle.

Return to present day diary…

I have been doing kids coding camps for over 13 years and I just finished two separate weeks of kids camps this past July.  Having done so, I thought I would share my experience with whomever is reading this because as a parent, I like to know from time to time what a teacher of my children is thinking and doing when I physically cannot be present.  I thought it best to share this as a day by day experience for a group of 8-12 year olds.  It isn’t super detailed but you should get a good glimpse…..

NOTE TO TEACHERS: Having done this for many years, I have materials prepped.  This is not without a net.  When I do make major changes, I am doing “prep” several weeks earlier if not 2-3 months earlier when time permits….because we all have so much extra time during a school year.  You can access all my materials here for free…seriously…they are free!.  

Day By Day Diary

The Week Before C-Day (C=Camp):   Today I emailed my assistants the weekly syllabus, links to access the software, and my overall approach.  I assure them no prior software experience is necessary but be sure to help manage the kids. Eight to twelve year old kids can have a lot of energy.   I hope my assistants still read emails.  Hmmm…maybe I should text it to them.  All is well.

Get Me Coding Internet of Things

Leaving Staples after my printer melt down

The Day Before C-Day:  I print out my letters to parents and sign each one individually.   My printer at home dies.  I go to Staples to use their printer.  The Staples internet connected printer won’t read my USB drive nor connect to my Google Drive (see my Facebook post at GetMeCoding).  Grrrr.   The letter lets them know what their child will experience this week.  I like this part because I rarely got a personalized anything from any camp I took my kids.  I am a H U G E fan of Disney and I love their personalized touch and use it in my work.   I continue on my merry way updating some camp signage and anything I would like to use as props in the classroom.  Since I will be coming and going each day I get it all packed up nice and neat.  Once I used a box but now I use a backpack.  I ensure I have the necessary supplies for the flipbook exercise, storyboards, crowd control and my videos are all in a good Youtube Playlist. I feel like I am forgetting something.  I honestly get a little anxious.  New kids.  New parents.  I want this to go well.  Yeah….even after 12 in the Marines and 18 years in the classroom….I still get butterflies!!!  I watch Marvel’s Dr. Strange with my fifteen year old daughter the night before and note the in movie tech and cool digital animation.  What if my campers could build that……

C-Day 1:  I arrive about an hour early.  I look at my room.  Feels good.  I have been here before and know the weak and strong points.  What is a weak and strong point?  “Fred, it’s a room!!”  Seriously, the number one issue….the ability to quickly get in and out behind a child to help them when they encounter a challenging coding issue.  It is usually during a melt down.  I boot up and setup.  My assistant counselors arrive.  I have been blessed with assistant counselors who are both techie geeks and just good people.  Those are two key ingredients in any successful tech camp.  I run down the order of the week with them and BAM….here we go.  Wait….where are the camper parent sign in sheets?  I get the sign in sheets and now we are ready.  “Smiles everyone, smiles….”    The kids begin arriving.  They are quiet and nervous.  They find unassigned seats far away from each other.  Awkward feelings are in full swing for them.  Some parents are a bit apprehensive.  Some are like “see ya!” as they drop off their children.   I begin asking the campers their first name as they walk in, I smile, complement their t-shirts (that can be a whole other Blog entry….camp attire and cool tees) and say ‘welcome’.  They are here and we begin.  “Hello everyone, I am Mr. Fred….”  Kids answer questions I pose.  I tell some stories, we laugh, and barriers begin to crumble.  Laughter is magical.  We talk a bit and get to know where they go to school, the grade they are going, their interests, and if they took vacations.  We explore concepts of animation and how computers and coding are used today.  We have some computer hardware show and tell and now they are hooked. They are definitely interested.  Then the time comes to an end. Good start.  No one got hurt (including the instructor) and they were saying “bye” on the way out.  I think they will be back tomorrow.

C-Day 2:  Ok.  On my drive in I begin thinking we didn’t get as far on day one as I like.  That’s ok.  We can adjust.  Campers are dropped off and we can begin.  Wait.  I have a 4 students not here.  We need to move but I don’t want to get too far ahead and begin losing campers.  Play an intro video to motivate and let’s go.  The late students arrive.  No worries….it’s summer and camp.  Begin working storyboards and crafting ideas.  Man…some ideas are amazing some are like a Beatles Yellow Submarine cartoon. We have martians and sharks.  Bears and friends.  Aliens and lasers.  We also have Pokemon and mermaids.  All good.  All good.  Some campers volunteer and pitch their coding animation idea to the whole camp.  They talk to the screen instead of the camp about their storyboard.  “Please turn and tell ‘them” I say.   They get feedback from the class.  Brace yourself I think.  This may turn ugly.  Woah….they are all really giving great constructive criticism.  There is hope for mankind!   Time to test out the coding tool, Scratch from http://scratch.mit.edu.  That is really why they are here.  We go over the rules on how to use the pc and what a network is as they login.  Kids are calm.  Counselors are helping.  I am feeling good about this group.  Maybe the calm before the storm.  I drive home that evening wondering did I cover everything enough.

C-Day 3:  Work day.  Moving from Storyboard to the software tool.  “Hey…this isn’t a 3-D tool”….”I want to make Nemo and water move”…..”Do we have music from Call of Duty?”  Wait….what….how old are you again….really, Call of Duty??   We are now walking before we can run.  Some kids get it…..some are lost.  Time to go to work and level the playing field.  We assign teams and kids get to pick team names.   “The Animators”, “A Taco and a Cat”, “Pix-us”.  Too funny.   Day ends….kids get signed out by parents and they head home.  I look at the counselors…..”that went ok…maybe….kinda”.  We all leave tired today.

C-Day 4:  Teamwork and the coding frenzy begins.  “I can’t get this to work….” (swoop in to help).   “Why doesn’t this sound right!?”  (counselor assistant up!!)  “My dragon won’t eat the frog!” (I hop over to help).  All in all…we only guide them, get them to relax….and they figure it out. The problem solving is underway.  I instruct them on what a coding loop is and basic conditional logic (IF THIS…>THEN THAT).  We also go over some basics of a coordinate plane and how to move along it.  They get the examples or at least I think they do.   I start to wonder, if they will have their masterpieces done by Friday for our ‘Parent Show Day’.  It really is cool to see kids get into this.  Sparking this interest can have amazing results.  The end of the camp arrives.  My feet are sore today.  Most camper ideas are gaining traction as they code their animation.  But what about the others???  That one camper who just likes hearing the cat meow and go in circles…. Uh oh but actually….that is ok when I think about it.

C-Day 5:  I meet with the assistant counselors and we review the day.  Parents, family and friends get to come in today at the end of the camp and see the work.   Focus is a little off for the ‘campers’ today.  It is time to wrap up.  Some coding projects are working.  Some are not.  And some kids are spinning in their chairs.  But I also learn that many of the campers were working at home on their coding because Scratch is web based and doesn’t require any software to install on your home pc!  I think we triggered the switch for interest in this!  That is a very important component in continuing this long after they leave my class.  All in all they are looking good.  I meet up with my super assistants again to ensure we have all their work uploaded and shared to our ‘studio’ account for display during the presentations.  It is go time.

Presentation hour is upon us and we move to a room where we can fit guests and the campers.  All is going well.  Teams step up and run their work.   Team by team they approach the podium and present their work.  Then, a camper runs back after showing their team project and asks, “Can I show my own work”.  You can not say no to this kind of request.  This is why we are here and of course….I turn the podium over to them.  There were no meltdowns today.  All got their code to work.  The crowd claps and parents smile.  The kids smile.  I smile.  As the group begins to filter out I meet with parents to answer some questions about “what is next”.  The best is the camper who asked to take a picture with me and gives me a hug.  That was a great moment.  As the counselors and I walk out we reflect and comment on all this week.  We are all a bit tired.  Then I turn to them and say “Next time we should do……”

As I said, it works.  It really does work.

Coding Camp

Me and my ‘coding kids’ and assistant counselors

What experiences have you had with camps?  Good or bad?  Let me know below in the comments.

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