The first camp that I led was the on campus middle school maker camp for Kennesaw State University iTeach. This camp was a first for us at iTeach, but in the long run, I think it was an incredible experience. Last summer we did an elementary camp, so a middle school camp was a big step.
Thankfully, with the camp, we had a great group of students! They loved doing things like building Hummingbird robots, Bloxels games, and Little Bits inch worms. What was amazing is that we could give them a project, and then it turned into watching them go. As they got deeper into projects, you could see their imagination at play, and you could see the benefit projects like the ones mentioned above had on students. I wish groups of middle school teachers could see the students reactions. We might have better middle school curriculum!
My next camp was a twofer in Cobb County. We had both a maker camp going on at the same time as we presented a maker space to their summer STEM conference. I spent most of my time with the maker space to talk with teachers about iTeach support in schools, and I left the camp in the hands of one of my most trusted colleagues. From everything I could tell, the camp went incredibly well, and we were lucky enough to have all kinds of teachers come through our space and experience some of the activities we could offer in our mobile maker lab. I think the only thing I would change would be to have the camp and the maker space next to each other. If they were, teachers would be able to see what a difference a maker culture makes.
Even with those two camps out of the way, the biggest two were yet to come. They were the two full weeks of out of town maker camps in July. The first occurred in Wheeler County Schools in Georgia, and the second was at Forest Hills Elementary in Florence, Alabama. They were two very different camps, but both were successful in their own right.
The first camp was the one in Wheeler County. This camp saw us do both the elementary age group for 3 hours and the middle school age group for 3 hours. We had kids doing all sorts of projects including coding with Dash, building chariots, making Bloxels games, Green screen projects, and more. The middle school students also added projects like building Hummingbird robots. The kids loved the camp (many had not had chances to work with robots yet), but I think in the future I would add some more structure to this camp.
Because our numbers were below 20 in each version of the camp, we gave them free maker time. This meant students could go where they wanted, and what we found is this caused a massive bounce around effect. Students who had little experience with tools like 3Doodler, Little Bits, Bloxels, and others were not super willing to put in the effort to learn what they did. I think in the future, I would make them do more of a station rotation the first few days to understand the possibilities of what they can create, and that making takes time.
My last camp of the summer was the biggest and the scariest to plan. It was in Florence, Alabama, for Elementary, and there were 70 kids in the camp! The big number forced my hand into making the camp the station rotation that we needed in Wheeler County, and it worked great! The idea was that students got to participate in a project that everyone did in the morning, and then in the afternoon, they got a station rotation between many different projects. The first couple of days they had to go to the station assigned, but by the end of the week, they got to choose!
We had all kinds of stations Osmo, Finch Robot drawing, Dash Paths, Breakout, 3Doodler, Crafty Stations, Coding Robots for the Younger Ones (BeeBots and Code-a-pillar), and much more. One of our most successful stations though was the one that had been staring us in the face for a long time that we had never done. For many of the camps, we had played a video for inspiration called Caine's Arcade. The basic concept is that a little boy made a full arcade set of games in the front of his dad's store. We had never let students build those games, and it finally hit me that it would be a good idea. The kids loved it! The only thing that I need to do differently next time with it is have more cardboard!
I think our biggest challenge in the camp was chaperones. To save on cost for the school, we only brought two coaches from iTeach, and the school provided the rest of the chaperones. Just like anything, we had some that were incredible, while others we could have gotten a little more out of. I think in the end, that rests on me. Our biggest need for counselors was in the afternoon at the station rotation. There were several stations where we needed them to be at the station and offer a brief explanation. In the future, I need to have my stations decided way in advance, have tutorial videos for them to watch before our arrival, and have them assigned to a station that they can go in deeper with the kids. It's one of those where you learn by doing!
The other learning experience that benefited our future work was knowing which stations kids are interested in and which ones they aren't. With a camp as big as the one in Alabama was, we got to throw a bunch of things at the wall. Some stuck, while others didn't. The audience we had, had been exposed to some coding and robotics especially as they moved into older grades. It made things like drawing with the Finch robots somewhat boring, but it meant that something like the Kano computer kit was incredibly popular. I think in the future, we need to get an understanding of what kids have already been exposed to and structure our stations from that.
Overall, I think there are some key concepts that any teacher or media specialist can take from our experiences, and that is the whole reason for me to write this post.
Those key concepts
- When kids can get creative, you get amazing things. Our kids in our middle school maker camp were given projects to try, but then they were given the freedom to run wild with them. The creations they came up with were incredible, and the engagement level was top notch! It proved that we need to let kids create and make with the concepts in our class.
- Teachers need to see the maker movement in action. At our camp in Cobb, we had a boatload of teachers come through our maker space, but how cool would it have been to have them have seen the camp! They could have seen the benefit of the movement first hand.
- To start in a maker space, you need to force the kid's hands a bit. From our Wheeler camp, we learned we need to move into a station rotation format before we give the kids choice. Kids today too often aren't willing to put in the "tinkering" time to make something work, and by making them do a station rotation, you can force that hand a bit. It also teaches them that failure is OK!
- Make sure your chaperones are ready. If you have volunteers in your maker space, you need to realize that it's going to be a different concept for them. You need to have detailed instructions and tutorials before they start, and then keep them in the same station till they get good at it!
- Make sure you know your audience. In the Florence camp, I put out something for the older kids that frankly was probably belief their level when I tried to let them code drawings with a Finch robot. Most of the students have coded before, and this became boring quick. We are in an age where students can be the same age but have vastly different experiences with things like coding and robotics, and we need to gear our maker spaces to where they are!