For the thousands of youngsters who will be going off to camp this summer, the call of the wild may include computers and for their parents it means another factor must be weighed in deciding what constitutes the perfect place at which a child can best experience a computer sleep-away or day camp. The first-ever computer camp was established in 1977 by Dr. Michael Zabinski, professor of engineering at Fairfield University. Now 34 years later Zabinski’s National Computer Camps are offered this summer at Fairfield University.
There are important ingredients that differentiate computer camps, but the most important are the staff and the curriculum: Instructors need to be passionate about computer technology and the curriculum needs to cater to a wide range of campers’ interests, backgrounds and ability levels.
Video game design
A camper has a truly amazing idea for a game, but does he/she know what to do with it? Transforming the idea into an actual game is the challenge. In this project-oriented course, campers become familiar with game design software and learn the skills needed to turn a cool idea into a really cool game by mastering the techniques and elements that go into creating games such as action, adventure, arcade and role playing games.
Want to create an app? Do you have a cool idea? This course teaches the skills needed to program apps for devices that use, for example, the Android operating system. Campers learn to use functions such as text, graphics, touch, camera and others. Camper projects include touch and dial apps, text-based apps and one or two player games.
Digital video production
Want to be a film maker? A movie director? Campers have fun as they write and shoot their movies and then transfer their footage from the camera to the hard drive. With the aid of video software the images are manipulated: use the razor tool, add transitions and filters, superimpose graphic titles and add music. The final version of each project is recorded on CD for the campers to take home.
Web page design
The HTML language is used to write web pages and is appropriate for campers of all ages. Once the camper completes his/her personal web page it is uploaded to the Internet. As the camper progresses through the curriculum, he/she has the opportunity to also learn Photoshop and Flash.
At the camp, age appropriate software applications are taught in the afternoon during the creative computing period. Each day, campers select among Photoshop, 3-D Graphics, Flash, web animation, networking, Powerpoint and Excel.
Here are some specific things to look for, ask about, and beware of in looking for the right computer camp:
• Hardware: Be sure to ask what kind of computers the camp uses, for example, PC or Mac, and is the hardware state-of-the-art? It is frustrating for campers to return from camp and not be able practice on their own computer what they learned at camp.
• Computer/camper ratio: Most experts agree that working in pairs is very beneficial. There is more interaction between campers and they tend to share their ideas. However, the camp needs to be flexible and accommodate campers who prefer to work alone.
• Fellow campers: Find out the age-range of the kids that the camp tends to attract. If you are a 15 year-old novice, are you going to find yourself sharing a computer with a 12 year-old? Or are you going to be the only girl? Ask the camp for its track record. That will give parents an idea if other campers of equal age will be present to share more than an interest in computers.
• A typical day: The camp day needs to be balanced. In addition to computer instruction the camp needs to offer recreational and social activities. However, it is important that these activities are optional and that the computer room is always open during these recreational periods.
• Reference list: No parent should send a youngster to camp without first obtaining feedback from ex-campers’ parents. National Computer Camp sends out automatically a camp reference list with every request for a brochure.
National Computer Camps is held at Fairfield University is now registering for the summer. The camp is for those ages 7-18 of all levels from beginner to super advanced. In addition the campers take part in recreational facilities including swimming and tennis. For an illustrated brochure and a reference list emailinfo@NCCamp.com, visit NCCamp.com or call 203-710-5771.
Dr. Michael Zabinski, a professor at Fairfield University, is the executive director of National Computer Camps, Inc.