Friday was the last day of the Fairfax Computer Camp, an informal camp that I led in my house for my 9-year-old son Alex and nine of his friends and I would say that is was an absolute success. By the end of the week all of the campers were adept at Kodu and knew how to make computer games. My son Alex says “it’s really fun to learn about different characters and what they can do. For example the turtle can close its shell and open it.” Alex programmed the shell to open and close like a shield, protecting the turtle from enemy blips and missiles. Kodu has a large cast of characters, objects, materials, events and behaviors to program with so that each camper was able to follow his or her imagination. In architecture school I learned about a building system being a “kit of parts and set of rules” and once these kids understood the parts and rules, they were able to be very creative.
There were two types of magical moments that were happening over and over again in the campers. One is highlighted in the book I am currently reading, Reality is Broken, by Jane McGonigal: “Naches, a Yiddish word for the bursting pride we feel when someone we’ve taught or mentored succeeds.” (page 87). Not only did I personally feel Naches during the camp but I saw how the kids started feeling it with each other – as they were helping each other overcome programming obstacles.
The other type of moment that I saw was the joy in creating something and then seeing someone else (especially a friend) enjoy your creation. If you are a chef or builder or architect or software developer, you might be an adult before you get this experience. Many of the kids got this feeling this week with their first computer programming experience – at age 9. It is these positive initial experiences with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) that encourage our children to challenge themselves in school and future careers. I feel lucky that I work for a company that encourages these endeavors.
Moving Forward and Keeping the Momentum
So this was a success – and as the word got out over the week, other families and kids got interested and asked if I was going to do this again. The truth is that I’d love to but I need your help to figure out how to scale it.
- I’d like to get other parents involved to “teach the teachers”
- Clearly there is a limit to running this out of a residence – it works when you know all the families but there are serious liability issues that arise once that changes
- Should this be run as an after school program, a “club”, a YMCA, or out of a “rec center” run by the town or city?
- Should the model be “bring your own computer” or should the camp supply the computers?
- I’d like to start thinking about getting a bunch of kids ready to compete in next year’s Kodu Cup, a new contest sponsored by Microsoft
What are your ideas? Do you want to get involved?