At iD Tech camp, screen time is a learning opportunity

July 18

Celia Golden, 10, left, and Lexi Kingman, 11, enjoy a robot battle with classmates at iD Tech camp. (Photos by Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

You may hear adults — especially your parents — talk about limiting the time you spend in front a screen. But for eight weeks this summer, those rules don’t apply at a camp called iD Tech, where computers are a necessary tool for learning about robotics and video games.

Logan Doyle, 12, spent last week at tech camp learning to code — that is, to write computer instructions for a video game he was creating.

“I am trying to make the beginning of this [game],” said Logan, who goes to Julius West Middle School in Rockville. “If you go right first, you find a necromancer,” a master of death, he explained as he sat in front of a screen filled with numbers and letters. He was making a game called “Adventure.” “If you go left, you find an entrance to another area,” he said.

“All programming is logic,” said Logan’s teacher Zack Cogswell, who studies physics in college. In other words, if something doesn’t work while Logan is making his game, there is a reason. “I need them to understand that,” Cogswell said.


Campers, from left, Nolan Strauv, 10, Dante Stasio, 12, Max Levy, 11, Gabe Levy, 11, Calaen Roberts, 11, Christopher Johnson, 11, and Caleb Omidiora, 11, take part in Code Class, where they create their own computer games.

Cameron Hauver-Reeves, 12,learns to edit photos at iD Tech Camp at American University.
Growing need

ID Tech camps started in California in 1999 and are now all over the country. The company that runs the camps uses two locations in Washington. The first, at American University, started in 2008. Last year, the AU camp had openings for about 390 kids ages 7 to 12, and they all sold out. This year, iD Tech added another camp at Georgetown University, and both locations almost sold out.

“This is something I’ve been interested in for a while,” said Robbie Dyson, 11, who attends Capitol Hill Day School in Washington. “I want to be a programmer,” he said as he focused on coding his own “Adventure” game, which included several dimensions that the player would have to escape.

Across the room, boys were playing a 3-D racing video game that featured a car speeding down a track. When they were done, they talked about what they liked and didn’t like about the game so that the camper who designed the game could make it better. The boys decided that there should be more jumps and that the game should not start over after every crash.

Their teacher, Will Whitney, said the kids were learning problem solving.

“Kids approach a problem and think of different ways to solve it,” Whitney said. Like a lot of the teachers at the camp, Whitney attended iD Tech camp while growing up. As a kid, he loved video games. He loved the camp so much that he attended for seven years. “It was always the height of my summer,” he said.


Celia and Lexi repair their robot, which they named Eve, before robot battles continue.
Featuring fun

Like English and math, technology is important to understand. It will be essential for many jobs in the future.

“Technology is [everywhere] in our society,” said Jan Plane, a computer science professor at the University of Maryland who runs a summer camp for middle school kids called Computer Science Connect. “Whatever field they are going to go into, having some knowledge of technology is going to make a difference.”

The kids at iD Tech, however, were not thinking about that. They were having fun.

“I think they’re doing doughnuts with the robots in the lab over there,” said Celia Golden, 10, who goes to Forest Hill Elementary School in Bel Air, Maryland, and wants to be an author when she grows up. Celia became interested in robots after her mom showed her a robotics magazine. “I just wanted to learn more about it,” she said.

Celia and Lexi Kingman, 11, a student at Thomas W. Pyle Middle School in Bethesda, made a robot together. The girls called their robot Eve and tried to program her so that she could chase other campers’ robots out of a green square taped on the floor.

“I’ve been to other tech camps, but this one is the only one I love because I can build stuff,” Lexi said. “It’s not just on a computer; it’s building.” Lexi wants to be a mechanic or a journalist when she grows up.

“The kids have the opportunity to build something physical so they can see how [the robots] work and interact,” said teacher Vaughn Varma, an engineering student. Later in life, he said, if these kids attempted to build a shed in their back yard, they would have an understanding of how parts work together and how to build something that will stand up to outside forces. Varma asks the kids working on their robots, “How can you make this stronger?”

In another room, Beckett Scully, 12, from the Field School in Washington, was adding what is called “mods,” or modifications, to the game “Minecraft.”

“I added Pigzilla,” he said. And so a giant pig crashed through the blue blocks. “Why are there pigs? Fat pigs!” a friend said, laughing.

Tech and the future

Matt McAuliffe, another teacher at the camp, talked about the benefits of video games. The college student had trouble sitting still as a kid, but he loved playing video games. He liked that he could do a lot of things at once — or multi-task — in a video game. “There’s never a dull moment,” he said.

McAuliffe is an artist who works with computer graphics. He combines creativity with computer skills to make pictures, art and videos. He has his own studio and is working on a project that he hopes to sell soon.

Maybe the right kind of screen time is not such a bad idea after all.

Interested in learning about computer coding?

What: Go to code.org/learn for a free lesson and to make your own video game. (Always ask a parent before going online.)

What: Want some one-on-one attention on robotics and video game design? There are some spaces left at local iD Tech camps.

Who: Ages 7 to 12

Where: American University and Georgetown University

When: Through August 1; Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

How much: $899-$949 per week.

For more information: Go to www.idtech.com or call 888-709-8324.

Moira E. McLaughlin

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