Participants in the computer camp included (back row, from left) Nathan Spivy, Matthew Wright, Will Covey, teacher Bijoy Thomas and Daniel Wright; in front is Ben Spivy.
Photo by Bonnie Hobbs.
Some summer camps involve hiking and swimming. But the one held June 30-July 3 at the Vienna Community Center involved computers.
In the morning, Bijoy Thomas taught seven students, ages 12-14, how to make DS, or hand-held, video games. And in the afternoon, he taught them about BattleBots and Raspberry Pi.
BattleBots are robots the students built from gear boxes, electrical wires and batteries, and Raspberry Pi is a tiny computer that powers desktop computers. And Thomas said what the students learned will come in handy.
“This is pretty advanced for their age; understanding how a computer works is impressive,” he said. “And knowing this now will be a good stepping stone in the future.” Besides that, when camp ended, he gave the students their final products on a flash drive, plus instructions, so they could play the games they created on their home computers.
THE CURRICULUM for the classes came from an Ohio-based company, Funutation, which puts on camps throughout the East Coast. Thomas, who instructed the students in this program, is a junior and IT/business major at Virginia Tech.
“My goal was to get them as computer literate as possible in the short time we had,” he explained. “Overall, the kids did really well. I saw my first coding language at 17; they’re learning it at 13.”
Will Covey just graduated from Louise Archer Elementary and will attend seventh grade at Luther Jackson Middle School. “I’m really into programming and, last summer, I took a class on HTML website design; so this year, I wanted to design games,” he said on the camp’s last day. “Right now, I’m making a Python program – coding language to make basic Windows.”
Will owns a Raspberry Pi so, he said, “I’m probably going to use Python to create my own, original, puzzle and step-strategy games. I’d recommend this camp to others because it’s fun and you get to learn about how stuff works; so if I had a computer problem, I could fix it.”
Daniel Wright just graduated from St. Mark Catholic School in Vienna and will be a Paul VI High freshman in the fall. “I’m interested in electronics and robots and I like building things,” he said. “I built a controller out of wires, batteries and duct tape to generate the energy to power the motor and gears in the BattleBots. Then the BattleBot could spin its wheels to move forward or backward.”
AS FOR THE CLASS, he said, “I love it; I like that it requires some thinking and the teacher’s nice. And the class is just long enough to keep you interested. I’ve learned soldering, how to use Python and how a controller operates – and it’s pretty cool how it all works together.”
Daniel said both Raspberry Pi and BattleBots “are good for kids in sixth through ninth grades because they involve basic programming skills and learning how to begin circuiting – connecting electronics to each other.”
Ben Spivy, a seventh-grader at Flint Hill School in Oakton, signed up to try making DS and 3D X-Box games and learn how they work. “We made a DS game called Breakout, where you have to break some bricks and go through different levels,” he said. “It was really cool because DS games always looked so complicated to make, and I felt proud that I could make a working game. I had the most fun doing that.”
Ben said Raspberry Pi taught him the skills to program and put together computers. He said the camp was hard work but, “in the end, it’s definitely worth it.”
St. Mark eighth-grader Matthew Wright also likes “programming, figuring things out and building stuff. I really liked the whole week because we built the BattleBot robot from scratch. You soldered things and cut the wire, yourself – it didn’t come in a kit. I’ll definitely do another camp like this.”
Flint Hill freshman Nathan Spivy joined the class because “I thought programming would be fun and exciting, and it was – and so was creating 3D games.” He said designing his own video game and inputting the code that created it was his favorite part. “Now, I’ll be able to make simple games like Asteroid and create them the way I want them to be. This camp was really fun and a great experience.”