The term “summer camp” has a new meaning for some lucky young people attending a series of weeklong programs right here in Savannah this month: they’re being introduced to the fascinating world of computers and technology — and being encouraged to pursue careers in these rapidly-expanding areas.
There may be no swimming or field games in these camps, but students from the fourth grade through high school are being taught to create original computer animations and games, build and program robots, and go on actual GPS treasure hunts (called “small scale geocaching”).
Hosted by the Savannah campus of Georgia Tech, these Creative Technology Camps are funded by a $5,000 seed grant from Georgia Tech’s own Computer Science Department. The purpose of the grant is to increase offerings of both formal (school based) and informal (camp and club based) computer science programs throughout Georgia.
While computer science continues to be a high-demand job field, in Georgia only 421 students took advanced placement tests in computer science in 2007, as compared with 16,144 students in history, 14,218 in English, and 6,087 in calculus.
Students in all three camps at Georgia Tech-Savannah are being introduced to computer programming with “Scratch,” which was developed at MIT. With Scratch students learn computer programming concepts while creating two-dimensional animations and computer games. And because Scratch is free, participants can download and use the software at home.
The middle school and high school camps then move from the two-dimensional animation to a three-dimensional program called “Alice” developed at Carnegie Mellon. Alice introduces students to more complex programming in a user friendly, “drag-and-drop” environment. And, like Scratch, Alice is also available online without cost.
In addition to computer animation, the three camps involve working with robots of varying complexity.
Grade school and middle school groups program and manipulate LEGO robots, with elementary students beginning with pre-assembled robots and middle school students building their robots from scratch.
High school students will work with Vex robots, the systems featured in the 2007-08 FIRST Tech Challenge. From basic navigation to incorporation of sensors, students explore problem solving, mechanical design and programming techniques. After mastering these topics, students choose the creative technology media of their choice and complete final projects, to then share at a presentation to their fellow campers.
For information contact Julie Sonnenberg-Klein, project director at Georgia Tech-Savannah, at 966-7922, or visit www.coastalkidsrobotics.org.