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Fire Tech Camp – The Pilot Sessions

I can’t believe it’s been two weeks since we launched Fire Tech Camp! People keep asking me how it went and I’m nearly at a loss for words (highly unusual!).

It was amazing, inspiring, exhausting (in a good way). The kids really demonstrated that they wanted to learn, and even those that seemed unsure on Day One appear to have gotten the bug and been highly motivated throughout the week. I was gratified to see that we were able to put something together that got kids very excited about technology, empowered them with fantastic tools, and in a very concrete way transmitted the message that they can MAKE something amazing.

Learning about iterative design with marshmallows and spaghetti

The kids spent most of their week working on their core projects.  We set out to teach them not only how to use a particular software or platform, but also to give them an experience of the design process.  The importance of thinking through your app or game before rushing into it – identifying a problem that your app will solve, or the narrative of your game’s story.  We did some exercises to help them grasp the idea of iteration in design, that it is important to test and re-test throughout the process, so that you don’t get to the end of your project only to find out that it doesn’t work the way you’d hoped.  And very importantly to our mission, we tried to lead them through a process that necessarily includes set-backs and frustrations – and to help them see that these are not failures but building blocks on the way to a final, robust product.

Robotics works a little bit differently as kids are working in teams and they worked on multiple projects. Here we first spent time getting to know what the robots can do and how to use the various sensors.  The robots can sense when they approach or touch something (ultrasonic and touch sensors), when they cross or follow a line or a specific colour (light and colour sensors), when there is a loud noise (sound sensors), and they also have programmable motors attached to wheels, gears or caterpillar tracks. Getting to know all the parts meant building robots from instructions or more often just free-styling using our imaginations. We even had a “cheerleader” robot who started off some of our challenges with a little dance!

Tutors Ali and Bo laid down challenges for the kids – a Sumo wrestling battle, 2D maze, 3D maze – and the kids had to write the code, download it to their robot’s “brain” and then carry out the challenge successfully.

Fire Tech Camp – Robot Sumo Wars! from Jill Hodges on Vimeo.

Beyond the core projects, kids with the time and/or inclination were taught HTML/CSS so that they could develop their own website to showcase their work.  One of the campers really went for it and taught himself enough JavaScript to take his app to a more advanced level!  Some kids spent a full day on their website, while others preferred to keep working on their main project and use very simplified website builders, which we also made available. On top of all that, we had Nina Divani, an amazing 14-year-old app entrepreneur, come in and speak to the kids.Excusions around Imperial, to the Science Museum, and to Hyde Park were some of the other activities away from the screens.

Throughout the camp, kids had an opportunity to post “shout outs” on the front boards, to recognise fellow campers or tutors who had inspired them or impressed them!  Campers gave each other a lot of support and encouragement and I think everyone got a kick out of seeing their name as a flame in what became two huge bonfires of shout outs. What we set out to do was to give kids the tools and the confidence to take their interest in electronics and make that It’s much more than teaching them to use software – we want them to learn how to learn, how to seek help from inanimate resources (google mainly), from peers, and from experts.  We hope that each of the kids walked away able to take on a new project on their own, and interested in taking their new skills further.

We learned a few things along the way. We’ll tweak a bit of the equipment. And while we can light a passion for technology, pleasing 43 kids in the food department was quite possibly a bridge too far. But the initial feedback from kids and parents tells us that we are doing something right!  In their words:

“Fire Tech Camp has inspired me to believe in myself and I had an amazing experience at Fire Tech Camp and I really want to go in the summer.  Thank you so much!”  – 12 year old App Developer

“Fire Tech Camp was a great experience and the best camp I’ve ever been to. I think the camp does a great job in combining fun with learning.” – 11 year old Video Game Designer ”

“Fire Tech game development camp provided my kids an experience to create a game and gave them a greater appreciation for what it takes to make the games they play. I highly recommend the camp for any child who is interested in computer games. I’ve already enrolled my children in the robotics summer camp.”  – Mum of two Video Game Designers, girls 11 and 12 years old

“My daughter continued working on her app for two hours more after she got home at 5 pm!  That’s how much she enjoyed it…” – Mum of two App Developers, 12 year old girl and 13 year old boy

Thank you so much to the parents who entrusted their kids to us for our very first Fire Tech Camp – and a huge shout out to Genevieve Smith-Nunes who developed an engaging curriculum and trained the tutors, and especially to our six tutors who spread their own passion for technology to the next generation of creators!

We had so many shout out “flames” that we had to set up two bonfires!