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The Best of Fire Tech Camp in 2014

2014 was an important year for Fire Tech Camp, as we welcomed hundreds of campers through our doors and established new bases across the UK.
Here are some of the things that have happened in the last year and what they mean for our mission to empower young people with technology and making. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this journey so far. Without wanting to sound like an Oscar Acceptance Speech, we truly couldn’t have taken any of those big steps this year without a lot of people giving us their time, support and energy. It means a lot and we hope you’ll stick around to experience another great year ahead…

Inspiring Offices and a Growing Team

We set up Fire Tech Camp HQ at Imperial College’s ThinkSpace back in March. It’s not only a space where we think, but where we plan, create, test and do! Having an environment where we can focus as a team has been really inspiring and we’ve made full use of the great facilities, including a rooftop terrace on those rare sunny days! Part of the reason for needing a bigger space to work in was to accommodate a bigger team…

David and Jill after setting up the new orange chairs in the office!

David joined as our Director of Technology at the start of 2014 and, aside from developing and delivering the content of some of newest courses in Web Development and Digital Photography, he has been working hard to keep ahead of the ever-increasing technological requirements of running of Fire Tech Camp. We launched a new website back in December and are continuing to test and update this with the aim of making it easy for you to find relevant information and book courses.

Maddy joined the team part-time back in February, in order to manage marketing and communications. We have tried lots of new things to get the message out about Fire Tech Camp, including an Arduino lesson with Radio DJs back in July and inviting different people to sample our camps and courses. If you are a journalist or blogger and would like to find out more, then please get in touch. Here’s what Maddy says about her experiences at Fire Tech Camp so far:

The best thing about this role is having to learn alongside our campers. Before last year, I had never even heard of Rapid Prototyping or Arduino! Since then, I’ve been able to have a go at all sort of different things and have written my first lines of code. As a newcomer to the field of computer science, I’m in a good position to explain our camps and workshops to other people relatively inexperienced with technology. But the campers themselves put me to shame with their tech skills!

It’s a different story for Angela, who joined the team in August as our Director of Operations and Education and has a huge wealth of knowledge when it comes to technology and teaching. She is on a mission to support schools and teachers with the new Computing curriculum as well as manage the content of our own (rapidly growing!) curriculum.

While our numbers in the office remain small, we have also welcomed a huge team of tutors and lead instructors across our camps this year. Jill, the founder of Fire Tech Camp, continues to get involved in every aspect of the business, but she now has a group of people around her to support and inspire the values and mission of Fire Tech Camp, not least the value to work collaboratively. Of course on the downside, changing offices has meant leaving the cat at home, but you can’t have everything!

Rapid Prototyping and the Digital Arts

We have gone on about it rather a lot already but launching Rapid Prototyping: An Introduction to Making and 3D Printing back in August was a huge deal for Fire Tech Camp. We believe it is one of the most innovative making courses available for young people in the world today, and we are planning more exciting workshops on modelling and making in 2015 – including a very special week inspired by our young women makers.

With The Internet of Things predicted to take off in 2015, the different fields of design, product development, art and programming are all coming together in unpredictable and explosive ways. The direction that Fire Tech Camp took in 2014 reflected some of this activity with an increasingly diverse portfolio of programmes for young people to get involved with electronics and physical computing. In April, for example, we broke new ground with a Wearable Tech Workshop.

Programming remains at the core of Fire Tech Camp but, more than ever, we are helping our students to combine their coding knowledge with other skills in design and media. In 2014 we launched (and are planning new classes) that emphasise creativity through music, animation and photography. Long may it continue!

Winton Capital and the Scholarship Programme

It has always been our goal to make our camps accessible to as many young people as possible and it’s always a joy to see the difference a place on one of courses can make for a young person who is passionate about technology.

In 2014, our scholarship fund took off in a big way when we received a £10,000 donation from Winton Capital. This money, along with generous support from other private and corporate donors, meant that we were able to finance dozens of scholarships this year. Some schools also co-funded camp places with us, as a way of getting more pupils involved in computer science. As of the end of 2014, we had welcomed a total of 40 scholarship students to Fire Tech Camp.

Our scholarship programme for 2015 has just been given a great start by Bristol 2015 Ltd., which supports Bristol’s position as European Green Capital this year. They will be funding places on our first ever Green Tech Camp this April. We look forward to welcoming more campers on scholarships this year!

Collaboration and Recognition at a National Level

As Fire Tech Camp continues to grow, so does our reputation across the country. It’s always nice to get some good press coverage and our favourite write-up this year came from Zoe Williams at the Guardian, who came along to camp back in April 2014.

One of the best things about being recognised as an authority in the field of tech education is getting inolved with broader groups and initiatives. In 2014, Angela was invited to judge a category in the Future8 awards, which recognised digital talent among young people across a variety of categories. The winners were a truly incredible bunch and we are looking forward to getting involved with many similar activities in the future.

Working with groups including the NSPCC, NESTA and Mozilla has brought us into contact with many like-minded people who are working hard to get kids in the UK involved in tech and other STEM subjects. This kind of collaboration even took Jill to the Houses of Parliament at the end of October! It’s great to see a real tech education movement taking shape in the UK, which has its foundation in grass roots organisations and deeply committed people, and it’s an honour to be counted among them.

Fire Tech Edu and the New Computing Curriculum

One major change for the field of computer science in 2014 was the September update to the UK curriculum, which has made coding compulsory in schools from the age of 5. This was an important recognition of the growing need for computing skills in the UK and the need to update our the view of boring old “IT” and show that it is creative, useful, science-focused and – let’s not forget – fun! Similarly, the worldwide initiative Year of Code, brought new tech skills to millions of people across the world.

Of course, at Fire Tech Camp, we have recognised the need to empower young people with programming skills since we starting out. We’re now in a great position to share our expertise and experiences with teachers, schools, parents and students. We are supporting and complementing the changes to the national curriculum in two significant ways…

 Firstly, we launched Fire Tech Edu in September 2014 – an initiative especially designed to give teachers the practical skills and resources they need to get the most out of their students and the computer science curriculum. This strand of our business offers training courses, workshops, school audits and consultancy services to educators. As with the start of any project, it’s been a lot of hard work to get it launched, and now we are gathering momentum and looking forward to bringing the delights and huge value of things like Python, Minecraft, Raspberry Pi and other electronics hardware into the classroom.

Secondly, our own courses complement and support the curriculum. We frequently test new ideas and update our own course content to reflect the needs and interests of our campers. Python, for example, is widely taught at GCSE and A Level and is globally recognised as a teaching language for new coders. Our own Python courses (which now include an option to work with Minecraft and an advanced course for those already familiar with the programming language) take students further in developing independent competence at the programming language through project-based work.

All of our camps and workshops are, in fact, designed to encourage creative and original thinking. According to the Fire Tech Camp ethos, failures and set-backs are a natural part of any learning experience and a means of developing projects further. Within an overarching framework, we allow students to take their own work in a direction that reflects their personal interests and aligns more authentically with how computer scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs work today. Our camp tutors are often university students and full of enthusiasm for their field of work – we provide campers with important role models and experiences that they are not normally exposed to in a traditional classroom setting.

Three New Cities and Hundreds of New Faces

Saving the best to last, the biggest highlight of 2014 has been welcoming hundreds of campers through the doors of Fire Tech Camp. In London, we were pleased to see some campers come back for their second or even third course, as we offered our biggest ever programme over five weeks of the summer holidays. We also ran activities further afield for the first time – in Crowborough, Brighton, Bristol and Manchester.

It was a huge challenge to get the word out in these new places so we were very grateful for friends, loyal Fire Tech advocates, schools and other contacts in the areas who gave us their support and enabled these launch camps to be a success. Most important to this success were the campers themselves, who put their energy and imagination into creating some fantastic video games, robots and computer programs.

Video Game Design in Bristol – Showcasing Projects on Friday Afternoon

In 2015, we will be increasing our presence in regional areas around the UK and we hope to inspire hundreds more children and teenagers with the incredible power of tech. April courses have been announced in Manchester, Bristol and London already. This summer we will be present in at least three new towns and cities as well. Can’t wait to get camping, roll on 2015!