As the academic year wraps up, many parents fret over an impending summer “brain drain.” With schools closed and textbooks tucked away, how will the kids exercise their critical-thinking muscles? Online digital-learning summer camps may put some parents and teachers at ease. The programs swap out campfires for computers, but they don’t sacrifice the camaraderie and collaboration typical of traditional camps, or the learning that happens at school. Here are three options for kids who want to spend the summer of 2015 making, coding, and tinkering with new friends.
CONNECTED CAMPS Last year, three self-identified “girl geeks” had an idea for a digital summer camp that would foster creativity and problem-solving through the game Minecraft. Mimi Ito, Katie Salen, and Tara Tiger Brown were not sure at first whether there would be interest in a virtual “camp,” but when they launched a test run in 2014, 250 kids signed up immediately. The Connected Camps program is available around the clock, so campers can choose to work with a counselor or take a more self-directed approach. Participants must purchase their own Minecraft accounts, but there are some brick-and-mortar pop-up camps that meet in community spaces as well.
The camp, created in partnership with the Institute of Play, is designed for kids ages 9 to 13 who want to receive weekly Minecraft challenges. Some are creative, like recreating a famous landmark. Others are group challenges that require collaboration and teamwork. In a video testimonial, 2014 camper Lisa delighted in her summer accomplishments. “I built a cruise ship,” she said. “I feel more creative when I use Minecraft because I’m physically blocked off from building in real life, because I’m only eight.” Campers can opt for an additional coding camp, where they learn the Lua language for programming computers and robots in Minecraft.
The camp runs from July 6 to August 2 and costs $150 per week, or $50 for the coding camp. Register on the website.
MAKER CAMP Back for its fourth year, Maker Camp promises another jam-packed schedule of hands-on learning and fun for teenagers. From July 6 to August 14, Google and Make: magazine will offer a free camp. The program is accessible via internet connection and is more structured, with daily Google+ Hangouts and virtual field trips. Participants get sneak peaks into the processes and projects of all kinds of makers. Last year’s roster included high-tech miniature golfers, motorcycle makers, fashion designers, and the White House executive chef. The summer opened with a digital trip to NASA, where campers watched the live assembly of a telescope.
Each Maker Camp lesson comes with a craft project campers can make at home. Many libraries and community spaces host in-person sessions. Sign up for the 2015 camp and check out this year’s themes.
CITIES OF LEARNING Each year a handful of cities take on new identities as summer camps. Dozens of organizations come together to offer educational programming all over the city. Most of the activities are not online, but like the two opportunities mentioned above Cities of Learning programming often includes self-directed and digital components. Pittsburgh’s 2015 City of Learning website goes live in June with an online directory of participating programs. Some organizations offer kids the opportunity to earn digital badges, which recognize their new skills and accomplishments.
Digital learning is never confined to the classroom, so it follows that there are a number of flexible and fun summer options. Envious parents need not feel left out: sign up for the Connected Camps Online Grown-Up Camp and play along with your kids. Throughout the summer, we will continue to highlight the many local learning opportunities in Pittsburgh.