Written by volunteer Stacy Huffstetler
This summer TechGirlz hosted its first ever Arduino Programming summer camp – with a full week of curriculum targeted for 12 – 15 year old girls. This TechGirlz Summer Camp provided the tools and technology necessary for the students to learn programming, basic electronics, and engineering skills to build and program an Arduino controlled, obstacle avoiding robot. The week featured classes such as “Basic Circuits”, “Robot assembly”, and “Arduino Programming”, and culminated with a presentation to family and friends.
Of course, weeks like this don’t just happen on their own. They take a great deal of coordination, planning, and a phenomenal team of volunteers and expert advisors. We sat down with Donna Cusimano – TechGirlz Program Coordinator – to get her take on the preparation that made the successful week of camp possible.
Running a successful camp requires the input and expertise of many different people. It’s about creating the perfect team, which consisted of curriculum experts, teaching assistants, instructors, and assistants.
The curriculum team consisted primarily of engineers and IT professionals. Each workshop plan was crafted and reviewed by the curriculum team members to ensure consistency and accuracy of the materials.
Once the plans were in place, the team moved into the testing phase. The curriculum team had 2 meetings to test the workshop plans and work through all of the hands-on activities. This process ensured that the material was correct, relevant, and structured in such a way that it could be executed by the Instructors and TAs during the workshops.
Upon completion of the testing, the material was presented to the camp’s teaching assistants (TAs) in 2 training sessions. The TAs worked through the hands-on activities and were given pointers on how to help the girls.
The dedication of all of our volunteers truly made this camp possible through the many hours of planning, research, testing and meetings.
Action! Camp Time
After all of the preparation and hard work by the volunteers, it was finally camp time! The camp played out as planned — for the most part. One of the biggest surprises was that the girls picked up on concepts more quickly than anticipated. The passion and enthusiasm of the students led to highly focused and productive sessions, and great teamwork kept everyone on track.
In addition to knowledge, the girls also gained additional confidence in their ability to tackle new skills. When asked “What is one thing you learned this week?” One camper responded “Programming is not as intimidating as it may seem – it’s just a logical process.”
The biggest lesson learned was staying creative and flexible in order to accomplish the overall objective, even in the face of (big!) challenges. At one point, it looked like the summer camp program would need to be canceled. There were unexpected staff changes and camp planning was delayed to the point where it no longer seemed possible to complete the necessary preparation in time.
Rather than getting bogged down by these challenges, the planning committee took the opportunity to pivot. They re-evaluated the original camp program and consider new options. This process led them to Tim Harris, a volunteer who had run a workshop on robot building and programming for the Penn Wood Foundation the previous year. By incorporating this curriculum into the camp, the planning committee was able to build out a full week of curriculum and host a successful camp.
The week long format provided a unique opportunity for the girls to learn a full curriculum, bond with the girls in their groups, and help each other build a fully functional, obstacle avoiding robot from start to finish.
Be sure to check out the TechGirlz 2017 Summer Camp summary and video to relive the experience!