Summer Coding Camp – Trying to build interest in STEM Field and Classes

STEM Challenge Egg Drop
Egg Drop Design Thinking Challenge. Two teams survived our highest challenge, the press box!

This post is long overdue. We concluded the Coding Camp at the end of June. I have been busy planning and running a conference. More on that later. But now, here is my coding camp story.

In February, a colleague and I hosted a family coding night for our school district and the families. The idea grew out of our hour of code activities and getting more people involved in coding and computer science. As the demographics of the country continue to shift, many of the traditional jobs are disappearing and it is essential that we begin to prep our students for their futures that are likely to be technology heavy. As we were concluding our evening, we decided to announce a Summer Coding Camp. We had nothing else planned, but we thought it was a great idea.

Students solving a Breakout EDU
Students working to solve a computer science Breakout EDU.

As the school year progressed, we secured the permissions necessary to host a summer coding camp and began to recruit the participants. We settled on 4 days a week for two weeks at the end of June, partnered with our summer lunch program. We set a nominal cost for materials and began our preparation. We decided that the curriculum that we would use was Google’s CS-First pathways. We set up multiple clubs to allow students some voice and choice in the modules they attempted. We also didn’t want to spend all of our time in front of a computer screen, so we planned some design thinking and STEAM Challenges for our students.

Overall, the camp went amazing! We had a cap of 25 students, and we got 20 to sign up. Reflecting on some possible reasons, transportation and timing were likely issues hampering our numbers (we ran the camp until lunch each day). The students came in and were engaged, ready to go with their learning. Some students went home and completed a majority of their work for fun! Others worked in the class only. Regardless, in 8 days, we were able to promote all of our students to a second module or into the Khan Academy intro to JavaScript lessons.

We were extremely excited about the response, feeling that the response was really strong. The camp went great, but the true learning happens in the reflection upon the event. As I look back, I would change a few things. First, many of our students were amazing in that they needed very little help from my colleague and I. Most of them were fast learners and would help one another, without being asked to start there. This proved one of my long held beliefs about education. Students want to learn if they see the relevance to learning something. They are also more capable than we often give them credit for. Coming into our session, most students had experienced an hour of code with the elementary technology teacher. They all had a desire to learn more about coding. While I know this is not fully transferable to your classroom, as your students likely do not sign up, I am sure that there is something that they have a desire to learn. Forge a relationship and find it. Their desire also allowed for the facilitators of the camp to not have the full knowledge of how to code. This shows that we, as the educators in the Rome, do not need to know everything to be successful in facilitating student learning.


Students building paper boats
Paper boat buoyancy challenge. The winner held $2.77 in pennies!

Secondly, we have to find a way for our students to feel safe in trying something. This is where we hoped that some of our STEAM and design thinking challenges would help. It was a safe place to try something and fail, with it being okay. We had a few students that were trying to be perfect and would get frustrated when things weren’t going as they planned. This is something that we need to move our students away from. We need to have our students, and our teachers, to be comfortable with the learning process of trying multiple times and reflecting after their learning. One thing that we truly want to look starting a forced reflection on their learning. This is one way to connect learning and embrace more of the learning process. Everything that our students do will not be perfect. We need to work ways that we can help them grow through the experience of learning. Reflection is a key tool that can assist our students in learning how to deal with the challenges of learning something new in their future.

Lastly, I would look for ways to find something that is a little more challenging for some the more advanced coding students. For example, a few students had worked through their chosen club in a week. For those that are coming with more of a background in computer science, I want to have a differentiated experience. It is also time that we move away from asking our strongest learners to go and help some of our struggling students. Besides potential FERPA violations (it turns out so much of what I did in the classroom growing up violated FERPA in one way or another such as passing back other student work with grades on it), it also stunts their academic growth. I am not saying that we isolate our best and let them learn more on their own, but we must find a way to get these students learning more and growing while still remaining a viable part of the class. When I was in high school, I tutored other students in my math classes to ensure that they were also successful. This helped me get an understanding for teaching and the importance of working with others. We must continue to do this for our students while not stunting their growth and understanding of the subject at hand. We cannot hinder student learning to bring the pack along. It’s tough to do but something that we must find a way to accomplish.

Overall, the experience of running a coding camp for students was an incredible one. It was amazing to see the desire of these students to learn something that will help them in the future. We worked on helping the students make connections to other learning as well. The goal is that the students will come back and continue to grow and learn. We left them with a variety of sources that they can continue to challenge themselves and learning on their own. It is important that they find the desire to learn and move forward.

2 responses to “Summer Coding Camp – Trying to build interest in STEM Field and Classes”

  1. This is fantastic! I would love to be part of something like this someday.

    I get a sense from your post that you’re thinking about how this experience will “stick” with the kids. Will the skills the students have been learning continue to develop? Or will the students go back to how things were? It seems like you have a great foundation here for transforming learning for a lot more kids beyond one brief summer program.

    How about bringing some of these kids back as mentors for a new cohort?

    • I hope it sticks with them! We provided them with resources, and at the Junior High, I have been running a lunchtime coding club that allows the students to come in and work on these skills. The goal is to develop a bigger base of interest in both the school and the community to begin to offer the classes at a high school level. There has been talk of allowing a coding class to count as a math credit in Michigan (if we are not there yet!), so we have the opportunity to really develop these skills and push the students forward.

      We hope to get them as mentors, but we also do not want to stifle their learning. We need to find balance of offering more challenges while allowing them to assist other students!

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