In a classroom at American University’s Anderson Hall, several dozen young people stare intently at computer images of alien landscapes and whimsical beasts. Down the hall, two preteens -- one wearing a fez and a cape -- run their attack robot through its paces. Elsewhere, eight young people toil over the final touches of iPhone applications they’ve designed.
This is a summer camp without the mosquitos.
A California-based company called Internal Drive sponsors these tech camps over the summer at 60 schools around the country.
“This gives the kids that are a bit more technologically inclined and interested in pursuing a path that’s sort of off the beaten trail, a way to do that,” said Emily Murphy, director of the camp at American University.
The campers, who range in age from 7 to 17, have different goals in mind. Some see this kind of work as a future vocation; others say it’s a hobby. The iPhone app course is new to the camp. Kevin Robinson, 12, has created a game application that pits the player’s skill against monsters and something that looks like a laser shooting crab. While he says he intends to keep working on an app that he may try to put up on Apple’s App Store, he said, “This one’s going to be kind of novelty game for me and my friends.”
“They’re just excited to have what they dreamed up and wrote down on paper come out on their computer screen,” said instructor Bram Detwiller, a technology education major who’s teaching the course as part of a scholarship requirement. But he, too, is learning from his time at tech camp. “This whole experience of getting to teach these kids has just built up the fact that I want to teach,” he said.
The campers have to complete their projects under a deadline, and there’s lots of one-on one interaction with the instructors. Class sizes are limited to maintain a ratio of eight students to one instructor. The equipment and software these campers use would be the envy of most public school systems.
But there are constant reminders that this is still a summer activity, and the campers need to have some fun time. Thursday is character day, where campers and instructors are assigned fun names or roles. Justin Connel, 11, wears a fez and a cape as he and classmate 12-year-old John Shaia fine tune their attack bot. They look like a couple of kids just romping around on the floor playing with a toy — that is until they start to explain their project and start talking about distance calculation and programming and reprogramming their computerized creation until it finds and attacks colored plastic balls spread out on the floor.
“It took a good amount of research to get the range we wanted,” Justin said.
Their robot properly calibrated, he and John are soon bounding back down the hallway, debating whether their creation could win a robot fighting challenge, and they’re once again just a couple of kids at camp.
For more information on Internal Drive Tech Camps, go to www.iDTech.com or call 1-888-709-TECH(8324).