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UCSB Computer Camp Challenges Kids

iD Tech Camp Steers Youths Nationwide into the Demanding World of Computer Technology


Despite the ever-increasing dependency of youth on computer technologies (encouraged by the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and so on), public schools lack education programs for computer gaming and programming. That’s where iD Tech Camps comes in. The youth camps offer what instructor Kristine Spitznagel called a “supplement” to what kids learn and aren’t able to learn in school by providing a hands-on learning experience for students with beginning to advanced skills, ages seven to 17.

iD Tech Camps was founded in 1998 and operates annually at 60 top national universities. This year the camp launched a local program; UCSB has joined the likes of Harvard University, Stanford University, and UCLA as a host location for the camp, which runs until August 4. Registration is on an ongoing basis.

The UCSB program currently instructs 30 students — each student works on his or her own individual project through the week-long session. Students use programs like Multimedia Fusion, C++, and Java.

The session is broken up into daily classes, with six to eight campers per instructor, to ensure that each camper feels the sense of a one-on-one learning experience. The wide range of available classes — which includes 3-D design and Web design — aims to match the wide range of campers’ interests.

Campers’ long work hours — from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday — are interrupted by various video, snack, and activity breaks, allowing time for video game planning and robotics competitions. Instructor Spitznagel added that campers are also welcome to use the nearby campus pool and dorms for sleepovers, which fosters a “camp culture.”

Sticking with their mission to avoid making the camp feel like school, Spitznagel explained and pointed out the green question mark banners on the sides of computers. When they have questions, students raise the question marks instead of raising their hands.

Although campers spend most of each day on computers, Spitznagel said they manage to retain concentration. Instructors work with campers to brainstorm ideas for creating their programs. They might suggest using premade characters to start with should campers become frustrated.

“They think it’s fun,” Spitznagel said. “The work is challenging, but it’s also rewarding — they created it.”

All of the students that entered iD Tech Camps have a strong interest in computer technology, and their levels of experience vary. Twelve-year-old Rafael, who will enter middle school next year, plans to major in the field. Spitznagel, who is currently in her fourth year of instructing with iD Tech Camps, said many students use the camp as a “beginning point” before delving into computer science-related majors in college.

Lead instructor Antonio Aiello — who is in his second year instructing with iD Tech Camps — works with older campers on 3-D software used in the video game industry. Aiello teaches his students the “bare essentials and basics” to creating their own video games. The campers produce levels to be used in their games’ “environments,” and at the end of the week they share and play each other’s games.

At the end of each week’s session, all of the campers’ games are published on the iD Tech Camps Web site (internaldrive.com), allowing campers to share their projects with friends. So 10-year-old Lachlan Rose, who aspired to create a multi-user video game to play with her friends, can do so.

iD Tech Camps also place emphasis on the strengthening of students’ self-confidence, using skills learned at camp. This was evidenced by both Rafael’s and Lachlan Rose’s clear explanations of their projects and goals for the week.

According to Spitznagel, iD Tech Camps is the only camp of its kind offered locally, and it started this year. “We’re really excited and we’re hoping to get more kids involved,” Spitznagel said.

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