Science and technology summer camps are an easy sell for many local parents. Yes, they can be pricey, but they potentially offer a large payoff: helping your tween or teen develop a hobby that may someday grow into a well-paying career.
Fortunately, there is a plethora of science, tech, engineering and math (STEM) camp programming in the techno-rich Bay Area. The options range from mainstays like electrical engineering and C++ computer programming to newer offerings such as 3D printing or app building.
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. 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 popular camps, giving parents a close-up of the goals and daily activities of programs at a range of prices.
They include a robotics camp held at Stanford University, a course in the cutting-edge field of cyber security and a relatively affordable coding and game design day camp held at area schools.
Many of the camps offer need-based scholarships, so be sure to inquire. And don’t wait too long to register. As one of the few type of camps that take campers over age 13, many STEM camps fill up fast. Read on about these exciting camps.
Robotics Camp by Education Unlimited
Kids who are into bots and batteries will love this class offered at Stanford University by Berkeley-based Education Unlimited.
The eighth- and ninth-graders 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 students then mount motors to the chassis and add wheels and gears so the robot can move – meanwhile learning about engineering concepts like speed and torque. They build power and communications systems using batteries and radio controllers, testing their robots in obstacle courses and a transportation challenge.
They add finishing touches to the robots using computer programming, sensors and robotic arms. And then they show off their 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 experience life at a prestigious university.
The one-week day camp is $2,045 and overnight camp is $2,705. A girls-only option is available along with co-ed.
Education Unlimited features STEM camps in several other subjects ranging from astronomy to video production. To learn more, visit www.educationunlimited.com.
Cryptography and Cyber Security by iD Tech
In today’s world of hackers and malware, the U.S. government is in great need of experts in cyber warfare and security. Who will fill this gap in the future? Maybe the students of iD Tech’s brand new cryptography and cyber security camp.
Open to teens ages 13 to 17, the camp teaches the history of cryptography back to Caesar’s time and takes it into the future with training in C++ coding and modern cryptography ‒ the computerized encoding and decoding of information.
“You’ll send encrypted messages back and forth between your classmates ‒ staying one step ahead of would-be cyber attacks,” the iD Tech website states. “As your cryptographic abilities grow, learn how to encrypt data with programs and computers and see how it relates to modern cyber security.”
Students will analyze computer programs for security and even create small cyber security programs themselves. Students who like to work in teams to solve puzzles and problems do well in this class, but the instruction also can be customized so that campers can work at their own pace. With one instructor for every eight students in this and all iD Tech courses, even beginning coders can excel in this class.
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,” he says. “iD Tech is honestly my favorite place in the world.”
Full-day cryptography camp starts at $799 and overnight camp starts at $1,368 depending on location. The largest tech camp program in the area, iD Tech has some 60 STEM courses and numerous locations around the bay. For details see www.idtech.com.
Python Programming: Creating Games by TechKnowHow.
Teens and tweens learn a very useful computer language at this camp and they learn it in a fun way, by building electronic games.
“Getting comfortable with Python at an early age is a terrific foundation for future programming success,” say officials at TechKnowHow, a Foster City-based organization with camps around the Bay Area.
Python is easy to understand and widely used because it’s similar to English and requires few lines of code. Many universities teach it in their introductory computer science classes, and many agencies use it, Google and NASA among them.
Two classes are offered by TechKnowHow in Python ‒ a beginners’ class for ages 11 to 15 and an intermediate-to-advanced class for 12-15-year-olds. While the newbies learn enough Python coding to create arcade-style Pokemon games, more advanced students create sophisticated programs, such as interactive games that play against a computer.
“Our lessons are built so that the kids can quickly see how their newly added code affects their final product,” Edgar Ruiz, TechKnowHow’s marketing and website manager, says. “Being able to see their code and creations come to life is the best part of the class.”
All students learn the essential constructs of the Python language, including variables, functions, conditional statements, loops and lists. More advanced students get to use the Pygame module to build better games as well as to design apps with Lua, a language similar to Python that is used in many well-known games like World of Warcraft.
“Our emphasis has always been to make sure the lessons and games that the students create are exciting,” Ruiz says. “It has to be something they would want to continue playing with and customizing even after the end of camp.”
Luckily, the students get to do so: TechKnowHow sends them home with a USB drive of their coding projects so they can play their games.
The one-week camps cost $465 and take place from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily at several locations. For more information on TechKnowHow and the dozen or so STEM camps it offers for kids ages 5 and up, see www.techknowhow.com.
Angela Geiser is a frequent Bay Area Parent contributor and the mother of two teens.