Gas station without pumps

2012 May 7

Kids on Campus

Filed under: Robotics — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 12:25
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Our local community college each year has a number of programs for kids (some for kids as young as 10 years old:  Kids on Campus – Cabrillo College Extension.

My son has outgrown these courses, and his 4 weeks of theater summer camp will make it difficult for him to register for any of the regular Cabrillo college courses.  He did take one of them several years ago: a Lego Robotics course using Logo and the old Lego Dacta serial interface board.  The same course appears to be offered this summer, with the same teacher.  Neither he nor I can remember now whether he had one week or two of using the serial interface—he does not even remember programming in Logo for controlling Lego motors.  I thought at the time that it was a pretty good course, and a nice variant on the mainly visual programming languages then available for Lego robotics.  (He has used a couple of those languages and NQC for programming Lego robots, though now he does most of his robotics programming in C++ on the Arduino, with Python and PySerial to communicate from a laptop.)

So far as I know, UCSC has not attempted to do much with education for children, other than the Seymour Center at the Long Marine Lab and the COSMOS program for high schoolers (which I discussed in a blog post about improving the science fair participation by high schoolers).  There are a lot of summer camps for kids on the UCSC campus, but most of these are from 3rd-party providers (like most campuses, they try to get money out of the dorms on a year-round basis).

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.

2010 November 15

Summer research program for top high-school juniors

The Research Science Institute offers a program each summer for 80 high-school juniors to do an intensive six-week research project in science, math, or engineering.  Unlike science fairs, these are not student-directed projects, but “Academic, corporate, and government-sponsored research teams invite RSI students to join in their ongoing projects, providing students an opportunity to make an original contribution in their fields.” [] Many of the students turn their RSI projects into science-fair projects, though, and some get co-author credit on refereed journal articles (the fundamental currency of science recognition).

The amazing thing is that this program is free: “Students invited to the program receive free tuition, room, and board. Their only expense is transportation from their homes to MIT.”

The information about applying says that the deadline for applications is January 15, 2010, and that only high school juniors may apply (so I guess I have to remember to look again in 2 years to see if the program still exists for my son to participate in).

They say, “It is recommended that PSAT math scores be at least 75, and combined math, verbal, and writing PSAT scores be at least 220. ACT math scores should be at least 33 and verbal scores at least 34.”  This looks to me like they are looking for the top 1% of students, but allowing some slop for testing error.  Obviously, with only 80 slots, test scores alone are not going to be enough to get into the program. (Hey, just like getting into a top college!)  I suspect that students accepted into the program already have a strong track record of accomplishment in science.

I think that programs like this one do a lot to encourage top students to continue in science and engineering—the interaction with other science-obsessed students, the chance to do real research and get published, and the funding that allows them to do this without bankrupting their parents are all very valuable.  Like the NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, actually involving students in research is the best way to convince them to pursue research careers.

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