19868261593_ecd0711fe4_zThis summer marked the 3rd year of our summer technology and innovation camps. We conducted two Minecraft camps, two robotics camps, and two technology/innovation camps, called Matador Innovators. All of the camps were 4 days long and lasted 4 hours per day for older students (generally grades 4 and up) and 3 hours for younger students. Camps were staffed by district teachers, librarians, and students.

Last year, I supervised and facilitated the camps, but left it to my extremely capable teachers to run the day-to-day events. I missed the face-to-face interaction with the kids, so I decided to lead the Matador Innovators camps again this year, and I am so glad I did.

20495460031_ec74edc42e_zMatador Innovators camps are fairly informal. We spend the week trying out a variety of creative technology tools, with the students given lots of leeway to determine just how they should be used. The activities and technology tools used this year included:

  • MakeyMakeys — electronic project boards that let conductive objects become computer input devices.
  • Paper and tape — students challenge to construct free-standing tower using only masking tape and 20 sheets of paper.
  • Circuit Stickers — surface-mount LED lights that were crafted into a variety of paper/electronic creations.
  • Lego Movie Maker — wonderful, free app for creating stop-motion movies.
  • Scratch — free, online tool for learning programming concepts and creating movies, simulations, games, etc.20462960086_9ae970febc_z
  • Squishy Circuits — homemade conductive and insulating dough that was used with batteries and 9v batteries to create and explore electrical circuitry.
  • Brushbots — simple robots created from toothbrushes, coin batteries, and vibrating cellphone motors. Guaranteed giggles.

These were active, noisy, engaged20301155578_dbce834fff_z camps. Students shared ideas, offered suggestions, asked questions. For the most part, we tried to make the outcomes purposely vague, offering specific instructions or guidelines when students expressed a need for them or just to introduce a tool. For example, I walked the kids through the creation of electronic versions of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, which allowed campers to get familiar with Circuit Stickers. From there, they were limited only by their imaginations, and the results were quite varied: a mask; a car; lighthouses; a model video game controller.

20302528339_9c51b0b8c9_zStudents also had a great deal of autonomy when making stop-motion movies or learning to program with Scratch, leading to a diverse set of products. When we built the brushbots, students were given the challenge of creating a bot that could be steered in a particular direction. The brushbots were set loose on a makeshift racetrack to test students’ engineering ideas.

Here are four observations for the 2 weeks:

  1. Many kids actually need practice dealing with failure. They struggle with adapting their plans, testing new ideas. They are used to getting one shot to get it right, usually do, and consequently can get very frustrated when they are expected to overcome failures. I had to tell one student he could no longer say, “It doesn’t work” unless he immediately followed that with the word “yet.”
  2. 20489198965_077bb404d7_zStudents engaged in imaginative, hands-on experimentation are generally highly motivated, have few behavior issues, and actually have to be told to stop working.
  3. Kids’ imaginations are bigger than ours. A few might need us to provide specific rules or expectations for their products, but many more will exceed our own ideas when given the resources and the freedom to experiment.
  4. Maker classrooms must be flexible. Learning by making requires teachers to adapt to students’ needs and schedules on the fly. The open ended nature of the tasks lends to unpredictable timetables. Embrace the chaos.

All in all, it was an exhausting, extremely rewarding experience. It was amazing to get to spend so much time interacting with the students, the one thing I miss from my classroom days. I am already plotting next summer’s fun!