I would argue that kids camps are an essential part of any fun summer experience. As a kid I was fortunate enough to spend time each summer at Beacon Bible Camp in beautiful northern Ontario. I enjoyed my time there so much that even when I was in high school and college, I returned to be a camp counsellor. This is despite the fact that the cabin I was in charge of was usually the worst behaved of the camp. Sadly, as I moved farther away and got a job of my own, it was no longer possible for me to return to the camp during my summers.
Over the years I kept up with the camp and still remain friends with the current directors. Of course this year, the camp looked very different and was presented with a myriad of new challenges. Thankfully, the camp directors were quick to respond to these challenges and launched an online only camp program called Beacon Unlimited. While the circumstances were less than ideal, it did open the door to allow someone like myself to drop in virtually to be a session leader.
I thought this was a great opportunity to get involved and do something different for the kids then normally happens at a summer getaway camp. So, I offered to lead a computer science / coding elective for the kids. This consisted of a 1 hour session every day for a week.
I want to share this experience because I know many other chapter leaders also are involved in various volunteer ventures. So I hope this will help someone else have inspiration for something to do or provide help with a similar effort.
I reached out to Shawn Tabor for guidance as he had previously hosted a similar program. He introduced me to the amazing content available on Code.org which features interactive programming lessons for a variety of age groups. I was very impressed with how it introduced complicated programming concepts very simply. It uses drag and drop tools and themes that kids can understand.
In putting together my sessions, there were a couple of considerations I had to keep in mind:
- Content needed to be accessible to a variety of ages
- The kids were not allowed to share their screen to ask for help which limited how I could assist and limited opportunities for the kids to help each other
Also note that although I studied Compute Science, I currently work with low-code technologies. It has also been at least 10 years since I have done any real development. Oh and I did recruit a co-facilitator who also had limited coding knowledge (but it was my Dad so we had fun).
If you are interested in running a similar program, you can review my lesson plan for inspiration. I also used a PowerPoint to go over the core concepts before we jumped into the exercises. This was a good way to help organize the class but I did discover that kids become bored by presentations even faster than adults.
There were several things I learned through this process:
- The set up of their accounts were the hardest part. Next time, I would have this as a course prerequisite so that the parents could help in advance. This caused confusion because some kids did not have email addresses or did not know a good email to use. I also could have skipped this step but I wanted them to be able to save their progress.
- There is also the ability to provide a teacher code to link up all the students work to my account. At first I did not think I needed this. I realize I should include this next time so I can monitor progress and easily add work.
- Several kids were using multiple devices such as a tablet to login to zoom and then a laptop to do the exercise. This means they could not click on links in the chat. Shortening the links would help in this scenario.
- Many of the lessons contained videos. For the first few days, I would present these videos to the whole class before they started their individual exercises. This tended to add confusion for a few of the kids. The lack of viewing the video on their account made their lessons appear incomplete. To resolve this, during the second half of the week I instructed them to watch the videos on their own. This allowed them to go at their own pace and fully complete each lesson.
- I learned to be more cognizant of general scheduling. It was helpful to wait a few minutes to ensure everyone was logged on for the day before starting the instructions.
- Finally, I also learned the importance of having extra exercises ready for the students that finished quickly and needed more assignments as to not get bored.
On the last day we had a Dance Party! This exercise teaches kids about events, properties, timing and other fun functions. Several of the students shared their dances that you can check out too!
Click Run to watch the dance or use the How It Works button to see the drag and drop code used to build the dance.
Overall I think this was a great experience! The sessions seemed to go better each day and several of the kids said it was their favorite part of the week!
The year 2020 has been a very weird year. However, I am thankful that these very odd times can provide the chance for creativity and new ways to give back. I loved this opportunity to give back to a place that gave so much to me as a kid. I hope this will inspire you to do the same!