On the mailing lists for parents of gifted kids, people often ask about the best computer summer camps. Even more often, they ask for people’s experiences with nationally advertised programs. So far, the general consensus has been that none of the computer camps work particularly well for gifted kids: the pace is too slow, the teachers don’t know enough, and most of the kids in the camp aren’t passionate enough about computers to be good peers.
That was my son’s experience a few years ago when he tried an idTech camp, and it seems to be a common experience for gifted kids in almost all the summer computer camps, no matter who is providing them.
There are several summer math camps that don’t have this problem, so it is not just a matter of gifted kids being hard to please. Rather, I think it is a deliberate attempt to reach the “average” kid that makes the usual computing summer camp useless for gifted kids.
Mark Guzdial, in his blog post The Best CS Summer Camp Paper: Sustainable, Effective, and Replicable, talks about a paper by his wife, Barbara Ericson, Sustainable and Effective Computing Summer Camps. The paper talks about programs at Georgia Tech that are self-supporting and not very expensive (after a whole lot of initial expenses covered by grants). Since this was a paper for SIGCSE (special interest group in computer science education), the paper talks about the measurable outcomes as well as how the camp was funded and organized.
There is good evidence that their summer camp programs are doing what they set out to do:
improve access to computing, increase students’ confidence in their ability to succeed in computing, increase students’ knowledge of computing concepts, and change students’ attitudes about computing.
The programs themselves sound a lot like all the other summer camps: fun for average or above average kids, but offering nothing for the passionate gifted kids who want something more than playing with Scratch or App Inventor.