Learning With Computers
Mary M. Humphrey
Teaching Tools : Microcomputer Services
This fall many teachers will be reading some new answers to an old assignment: "How I Spent My Summer Vacation." They may have already read reports of summer camps with bugs, but this time the bugs are in programs and the correct spelling of bite is b-y-t-e.
A new type of specialty camp, the computer camp, is gaining popularity. Five years ago, the first camp to include computer instruction was started in Connecticut. It was begun with the idea that computing is fun, and children need opportunities to learn about computing as an educational and creative recreation. The idea has spread, and this year there are several computer camps from Cape Cod to San Diego. We can expect their numbers to continue to grow as more children begin using computers in school and at home.
Recently a friend asked his 13 year-old son if he wanted to go to a computer camp this summer. Daniel, who had been working with computers at school and at home, was very excited about the idea. His first question was, "What sports and stuff do they have?" He then wanted to know, "Are there going to be any kids my age?" and, "Who's going to be running it?" It wasn't until the next day that Daniel asked his father, "What computers are they going to have, and what are they going to teach us?" After thinking over the answers for awhile, he asked one last question, "Suppose I don't go to camp this summer, could I have the money to buy my own computer instead?"
The last question was a particularly good one. For kids like Daniel who have had a lot of computing experience, are confident and can get the help they need at school or at home, having their own machine might be a better investment than going to camp. For kids who are just beginning to learn about computers, a computer camp can provide the instruction they need to make good use of their own machine. For kids who are interested in projects beyond their teachers' or parents' skills, a computer camp can be an enjoyable way to get special help. The decision of whether to go to a camp, and to which one, should depend on matching a child's needs and interests to what a camp has to offer.
What To Look For In A Computer Camp
When I began contacting computer camps for information (see Table), I found Daniel's questions quite useful. They cover several important similarities and differences among computer camps:
- Camping Activities. Most computer camps offer a variety of "sports and stuff." Hiking, swimming and field sports are available at all of the camps I contacted, and some also provide tennis, riding, boating, field trips, and indoor sports. Crafts, campfires, and other traditional camping activities are included at all of the overnight camps.
The amount of activities and the time scheduled for them is related to the length of the camping session. Most four week or longer sessions allow a large part of the day for non-computing activities, while one or two week sessions usually provide more intensive computing experiences.
- Other Campers. Some of the camps I contacted accept girls and boys as young as 7 years old, but most camps specify a 10 to 18 year-old age range. All of the camps welcome beginners. The director of a camp starting its third season said that, while as many as half of his campers have no previous computing experience, he also has a number of return students who receive advanced instruction.
In addition to their student instruction, one camp offers a special six week session for teachers on how to teach about computers and programming. During the last three weeks of camp, each teacher works with two of the student campers.
- Camp Staff. Staff can be described as either computing or camping staff, "indoor and outdoor people" as one supervisor termed them. The camping staffs are generally people with experience in leading sports, crafts and group activities. Some camps are managed by professional camping organizations.
The computing staffs vary widely among camps. One camp limits its computer instructors to teachers who have had experience with teaching children about computers. Another camp employs university faculty and students from education and computer science departments. They also bring in special guest speakers from the computer industry. Such staff differences may reflect differing proportions of young beginners and older advanced students at each camp.
- Computing Instruction. All the camps provide instruction in the roles of computers in everyday life and in how computers work. Beginning BASIC programming is also included. Camps with longer sessions usually teach additional topics such as other computer languages, use of peripheral devices like printers and video discs, graphics, word processing, robotics and special projects. Some camps also provide an electronics lab as one type of "crafts" class.
|Camp Organization||Camp Location(s)||Sessions/Prices||Campers||Computer Instruction||Computer Resources|
|Atari Computer Camp
40 East 34th St.
New York, NY 10016
|U.C. San Diego
E. Stroudsburg, PA
|10-18 years old||2 hours instruction and all day free time "Designing our own computer curriculum."||Atari 400 & 800
2 kids: 1 computer
|Computer Camp, Inc.
1235 Coast Valley
Santa Barbara, CA
Tahoe Pines, CA
Cape Cod, MA
|2 weeks/$795||7-16 (80 per session)||3 hours instruction 3 hours free time "BASIC, PASCAL, FORTRAN, assembler, electronics lab, AI, robotics"||Apple, Atari Commodore, Texas Instruments 2:1|
|Computers for Kids, Inc.
8 Bento Ct. #4
Tiburon, CA 94920
|Tiburon, CA||1 & 2 weeks approx. $4-500. per week||10-18 (30-35 per session)||2-3 hours instruction "computer literacy. BASIC, special projects"||Apple, IBM personal computer 25 computers|
|Computer Tutors at Stanford
School of Ed.
Stanford, CA 94306
|Stanford University||5 weeks (days) $1000 (extra fee for resident camp)||12-15 (66 per session)||3 hours instruction afternoon free time "BASIC, assembler, PASCAL, graphics, video disks, word processing, robotics"||IBM personal computers 2:1|
|Data Base Computer Camp
6454 Valley View Rd.
Oakland, CA 94611
|Placerville, CA||10 days/$425 ($150 deposit)||7-16 (50 per session)||3 hours instruction and free time "computer literacy, BASIC, special projects"||Apple, Commodore 2:1|
|National Computer Camp
Orange, CT 06477
|1,2,&4 weeks $345 per week||10-18 (120 per session)||2-3 hours instruction all day free time "BASIC, machine & assembler, novice to advanced instruction"||TRS-80, Apple, Commodore, Wang 50 computers|
|Timberline Tech Computer Camp
1287 Lawrence Sta. Rd.
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
|Sunnyvale, CA||2 weeks/approx. $895||10-17 (60 per session)||2-3 hours instruction and free time "beginning to advanced instruction"||Apple 2:1|
|Computer Camps International 310 Hartford Turnpike Vernon, CT 06066
|East Haddam, CT
("many East coast sites")
|2 weeks/$290 (1/2 day sessions)/$795||5-17(day) 9-17(res) (100 per session)||4 hours instruction and free time "any level-BASIC, LOGO, other languages, robotics, special Projects–computer morality class"||Apple, Texas Instruments 100 computers 1:1|
7101 York Ave. South
Edina, MN 55435
|St. Paul, MN
Beaver Falls, PA
|1 & 2 weeks
$390/week residence camp
|8-17 (50-75 per session)||5 hours instruction and free time "BASIC, LOGO, PASCAL, PLATO* Tutor, beginning to advanced instruction||Apple, Atari, Texas Instruments, TRS-80, PLATO Tutor System* 2:1|
|Lake Forest Computer Camp
Sheridan & College Roads
Lake Forest, IL 60045
|Lake Forest College, IL||1 week/$350||11-17 (70 per session)||6 hours instruction
3 hours free time "beginning and intermediate BASIC"
|*PLATO: Control Data Corporation microcomputer specially developed for PLATO software.|
Many camps have more than one type of microcomputer system available. Campers usually work two to a machine – the buddy system appears to be a good idea for computing as well as other camp activities. Generally, there is one instructor for every three to five campers. Classes last two to three hours each day. All of the camps provide free time for extra computer practice. Some camps do restrict game playing to the lowest priority for computer use, or to using only games made by the campers themselves.
The Table gives a sampling of the computer camps available this summer. It includes addresses and phone numbers to contact for more information.
What If You're Not Going To Camp?
The summer months mean kids are out of school, families take vacations, and there is generally more time for parents and kids to do things together. Home computing is one activity you can enjoy as a family recreation.
The most obvious choices for recreational home computing are game programs. These should be chosen with some consideration to who will be playing them, as well as what the game does. Games that require quick reflexes and good visual-motor coordination provide exciting competition for players of about the same skill level. However, when there is a great difference in ability, some parents may be disappointed to learn that they are no competition for their children. Competitive games that stress strategies or knowledge of particular facts are also best used by players of about the same level. While parents can use this type of game to teach their children, it may not be very interesting for the parent, and more like homework than a game for the child.
Adventure games are one type of computing activity that works well with parents and children. The game presents a challenging task, such as finding a treasure or getting to a secret place before a certain time limit. Players are given messages and hints to help find their way, avoid dangers and enemies, and gather extra treasures or points. The adventures are designed to allow players many options and to respond differently to each choice. Since players work together to accomplish the task, rather than working against each other, different ability levels don't lead to lopsided scores. The details of each game change as players make different choices of what to do and where to go. This kind of variety within a set of rules means players get better with practice, but not bored. Adventure games encourage a lot of discussion and decisions among players and are a good choice for family computing.
Creating your own household software can be an effective and enjoyable way to learn programming skills and coordinate computing with other family activities. Parents and kids can work together on writing small programs to compute the gas mileage of the family car, keep track of vacation expenses, figure batting averages for a whole little league team, print out price labels for a garage sale, etc... Maybe you can use VisiCaic or other commercial programs to do all of these tasks, but then you wouldn't have the fun and learning that come from working together on a very personalized project.
Programs for composing and playing music and for creating graphic art displays share features with the activities recommended above: they are fun and easy to use, allow people with different skill levels to work together, encourage interaction between the users, and have enough variety to be used many times. With a little imagination, parents and kids can come up with many more ideas for fun home computing.
Next month's column will cover another topic of interest to kids, parents, and teachers who learn, with computers — LOGO, a computer language designed for children and computer novices. Three versions of the LOGO language, Apple LOGO by LOGO Computer Systems, Inc., the Terrapin LOGO Language by Terrapin, Inc., and M.I.T. LOGO by Krell Software Corp. will be reviewed.