Camps for Techie Teens
Fortunately, there is a plethora of science, tech, engineering and math (STEM) camp programming in the techno-rich Bay Area. Options range from mainstays like electrical engineering and C++ computer programming to newer offerings such as neuroanatomy or game programming for iOS.
Almost any kid, from an amateur shutterbug to a fledgling filmmaker to an accomplished coder, can find a camp that matches and expands his skills. And there’s another perk to STEM camps – they’re among the only camps that still welcome kids over 13.
With such a full menu of STEM camps, it can be tricky to find the right one for your teen. In this article, we offer a peek into three such camps, giving parents a close-up of the goals and daily activities of programs at a range of prices. They include an electronics and game design day camp held at area schools, a Minecraft design camp typically held at colleges and a girls-only robotics camp at Stanford University. You can find many more among the advertisers in Bay Area Parent
And for any camp, be sure to inquire about need-based scholarships. Many offer financial aid. Don’t wait too long to register; many of these camps fill up early.
Arduino Electronics and Unity Game Design Camp by TechKnowHow
In this camp, kids ages 12 to 16 learn the nuts and bolts of circuit building and put it to use creating video games. While gaining the electronics and programming skills needed to build circuits and games, they’re also developing knowledge useful for many engineering courses in high school and college.
In the mornings, campers work with the Arduino, a programmable microcontroller that allows them to code and build electronic circuits. They start off by creating flashing LED and buzzer circuits and progress to making more complex devices, such as musical instruments, electronic games and a Unity game controller.
By the end of the week, campers each create a game where the player must avoid obstacles and chasers to collect enough objects and save its planet before time runs out. As a bonus, they get to take home their games to play on Windows PCs.
The one-week camp costs $495 and takes place from 9 a.m. to 3:30 daily at seven locations throughout the Bay Area. For more information on Foster City-based TechKnowHow and its STEM camps for kids and teens, see www.techknowhow.com.&pagebreaking&Java Coding and Minecraft Modding Camp by iD Tech
If your teen is mad about Minecraft, consider this camp where he or she gets to code and “mod” in it.
Teens at the camp run by Campbell-based iD Tech first brush up on their Minecraft creation skills, and then dive into making their own mods (modifications) while programming in Java, a language used in many applications beyond computer games like Minecraft.
Campers learn to create new blocks to make the game reflect their personalities. They can customize the landscape, armor, creatures, metals and reactions – for example, making things explode. (Prior Java or C++ experience is required for this class.)
While creating Minecraft worlds, students learn about object-oriented programming, variables, if statements, inheritance and polymorphism. They also explore principles of game design, bug testing and 3D world creation. In some camps, students make storyboards and flow charts, and try their hand at project planning, story and character development and scripting.
Zach Cohen, a teenage camper, says he learned the basics in his first week at iD Tech’s camp. “By the second or third week, I was working with more advanced tools, and now I'm adept at game development,” he says. "iD Tech is honestly my favorite place in the world.”
Camps are held around the Bay Area, with price depending on location. Fees for a one-week Minecraft Modding camp range from $909 at San Domenico School in San Anselmo to $1,029 at Stanford. An overnight option is available at some sites for roughly $500 more, and two-week overnight academies at Stanford in programming or game design are $3,999. www.idtech.com.
Robotics Camp by Education Unlimited
Girls who are into bots and batteries will love this class offered at Stanford University by Berkeley-based Education Unlimited and its partner, Sally Ride Science.
The eighth- and ninth-grade girls in the camp use the popular VEX robotics platform to design, program and build robots with impressive skills.
“We start by building a chassis; our robot needs a stable structure to provide physical support,” Jennifer Herbert Creek, Education Unlimited’s chief operating officer, says. “Like a skeleton, it holds everything in place and is the building block from which other systems can be added.”
The girls then mount motors to the chassis and add wheels and gears so the robot can move – meanwhile learning about concepts like speed and torque. They build power and communications systems using batteries and radio controllers, and then test their robots in obstacle courses and a transportation challenge. After adding finishing touches to the robots using computer programming, sensors and robotic arms, the girls show off the bots’ skills in a final sports championship.
Besides labs in their “major” – robotics in this case – the campers get to do “minor” labs in subjects like forensic science. They learn the engineering process (brainstorm, design, construct test and redesign), visit the Tech Museum of Innovation and get to experience life at a world-class university like Stanford.
This year, there’s a new Sally Ride Science camp – neuroanatomy. The one-week, robotics and neuroanatomy camps are held at Stanford for $1,925 (day camp) or $2,625 (overnight).
Other Sally Ride Science Camps for girls in fourth grade and up are held at Stanford and UC Berkeley. Education Unlimited also features co-ed STEM camps in video production, graphic design and programming. www.educationunlimited.com.
Angela Geiser is editor of Teen Focus and the mother of two teens.