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2012 March 11

CS Summer Camp

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:54
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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.

Where are the computer equivalents of Awesome Math Camp  (which I blogged about a couple of year ago) or RSI (Research Science Institute)?  I’ve not found them.


  1. I don’t know of anything other than doing USACO preparation online.

    Comment by Jo in OKC — 2012 March 11 @ 22:02 | Reply

    • Online stuff is not the same dynamic as a summer camp. There are a lot of things a teen programmer can do online (from individual puzzles like the Euler project to joining a big open-source software project), but few opportunities for working together with other teens and sharing knowledge or challenging each other.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2012 March 12 @ 00:26 | Reply

  2. I’ve just been getting into learning App Inventor and found an online course that’s been awesome and easy to understand. I thought this was going to be complicated, but it’s really not.

    I wanted to share the site with everyone who is interested in learning App Inventor:

    Comment by Open Road Adventures (@MinnTourism) — 2012 March 15 @ 08:43 | Reply

  3. Thanks for the comments! Our camps have an explicit focus other than “average or above average kids” — we’re trying to draw in women and under-represented minorities. Your point about camps for passionate, gifted children is well taken. Just not what we were designing for.

    Comment by Mark Guzdial — 2012 March 15 @ 08:44 | Reply

    • I realize that your design was to widen participation, and you have evidence that it is working. Great!

      I’m on a number of mailing lists for parents of gifted kids, and there seems to be a lot of effort directed toward gifted math students, some toward gifted science students, but almost none toward gifted computer science students. It may be more noble to widen participation as you are doing, but the field might benefit more from capturing the gifted students earlier, before some other field entices them.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2012 March 15 @ 08:57 | Reply

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