A day-camp instructor recently sat on the floor beside a camper typing code onto an iPad. The child taps “run,” and a small spherical robot moves, following the instructions he just wrote. The goal is to keep the robot on the road printed on the rug in front of him.
It wobbles off-track.
“That’s OK,” said instructor C.J. Ramos. “That’s not real failure. You know what real failure is?”
“Giving up,” camper Julian Leon answered. “I’m never going to give up.”
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Ramos is an instructor at CodeKids, a tech-based summer camp now in its second year for children ages 7 to 13. Campers learn about coding, game development, computer science and robotics at 22 schools in South Florida.
Maurice Lopes, Brad Nickel and Richard Chimelis, 70, of the Miami Entrepreneurship Center came up with the idea when thinking of their own children. They wanted a computer-focused summer camp, but bemoaned the price of those in the area.
“Maurice had the nerve to say, ‘Maybe we could have a camp.’ And I had the stupidity to say, ‘We can do that!’” said Nickel, CodeKids’ curriculum coordinator.
After launching a website to gauge interest, about 300 campers signed up, resulting in the need for three locations and 12 instructors.
“We were literally sold out almost every week last summer,” said Nickel, 51.
In one year, CodeKids grew to 22 locations with more than 60 teachers and 2,500 campers.
Those campers don’t need any prior knowledge of computers or coding before attending CodeKids, and can sign up for any number of weeks. Regardless of when they sign up, they are considered week-one campers, and work with a flexible curriculum so they can learn material they enjoy at their own pace.
“I like that you can play Minecraft and make mods,” camper Julian said. “Minecraft is my favorite game in the whole world.”
During the coding portion of the camp June 15, Julian created a Minecraft “mod” — a modification to a program created by adding to or editing its original code — which makes lightning strike blocks broken by the player.
“Mods are my favorite thing to do,” said Julian, 9.
Ramos, 30, said that the camp’s self-paced teaching method is what makes it unique.
“We’ll find out what they’re interested in, first off, whether it’s Minecraft or gaming or they’re into web design, and we’ll put them on a coding curriculum to match that,” Ramos said.
Upon finding the right curriculum, instructors monitor their progress to make sure they understand the material. Instead of a traditional classroom model, campers advance independently and get one-on-one help from instructors as needed.
“When they get stuck on a problem, we try to help them find it on their own, so they get this sense of self-empowerment through utilizing resourcefulness,” Ramos said.
Children who attend CodeKids will have access to more than 30 weeks of curriculum in nine different coding languages. Lopes, CodeKids’ CEO, said that his and his co-founders’ experience advising tech-startups gives the camp an edge.
“It’s not babysitting, we make this about learning code,” said Lopes, 43.
Because CodeKids runs only eight weeks in the summer, Nickel said only a certain amount of material can be taught.
“We tell parents, in two weeks or eight weeks your kid is not coming out with a career as a coder,” he said. “It may foster that interest and make them want to do more, but ultimately this is about understanding how the world is going to work.”
Ramos agreed that CodeKids is meant to inspire children to embrace the future of coding and technology.
“Long after camp we would like them to acclimate themselves to what’s going to happen in the next few years,” Ramos said.
According to a recent study by Oxford Martin School and Citi, 47 percent of jobs in the U.S. could be eliminated with automation technology. This emphasizes the importance of understanding coding, logic and technology for future careers.
“Everyone’s going to have to have a core understanding of how it works because that’s going to be a part of the jobs that are left,” Nickel said.
Because of this, Nickel said CodeKids provides the skills necessary to excel in most careers. “Even though your child may not think he or she wants to be a coder, the idea here is that you’re getting a lot other than coding out of a CodeKids camp.”
CodeKids summer camp
▪ Week-long sessions at 22 South Florida locations through August
▪ Coding from 8:30 a.m. to noon; robotics from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.; mini-robotics from 4 to 6 p.m.
▪ Half-day, $295; full-day, $395; mini-robotics, $150; $75 when added to another camp selection as aftercare.
▪ For more information about CodeKids, visit www.codekidscamp.com.