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Kids' coding camps growing in popularity

  • Article by: Christina A. Cassidy
  • Associated Press
  • June 25, 2013 - 9:19 PM

 

– The video game Jacob Asofsky is creating is simple: “Someone who is trying to take over the world and you try to stop them.”

The 12-year-old from Florida is spending two weeks at a summer camp in a program that teaches programming skills to young people.

“It’s about having fun, but it also gives them the tools to be able to do this at home because they don’t have this in school,” said Taylor Jones, director of the iD Tech Camp at Atlanta’s Emory University.

So-called coding camps for children are becoming more popular amid a growing effort to expand access to computer programming and inspire more youths to seek computer science degrees and careers in technology. Their rise underscores a seeming mismatch in the U.S. economy: People such as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Tumblr founder David Karp illustrate the opportunities programming skills can create, yet universities are not graduating enough code-savvy students to meet employers’ demands.

The iD Tech Camps, which have grown from 200 students in 1999 to 28,000 enrolled this year in courses at dozens of locations nationwide, use interest in gaming to build bridges to computer programming and hopefully careers in Web developing, film animation and app creation for smartphones. Courses start at $829 for a one-week course during the day with overnight students paying $1,348.

On a recent weekday, Asofsky was attending an iD Tech Camp on the campus with some 95 other youths under the age of 17. He was using the gaming software RPG Maker to create a video game in which the main character travels around the world, buys animals and armor, and interacts with others along the way.

“I have to say the interface of actually making a game is just as fun as playing a game,” Asofsky said. “It’s a lot like playing a game inside a game.”

Early courses for children starting at age 7 use the photo and illustration software Adobe Photoshop and the gaming software Multimedia Fusion to create a simple arcade-style game.

“We sit down and talk about what makes games fun,” said instructor Melissa Andrews, who was working with the youngest group of campers. “We get it down to the basics so they can make their own game.”

Courses for older children include designing apps, creating sophisticated, 3-D, first-person shooter games using the Unreal Developer’s Kit — also known as UDK — and learning programming languages like Java and C++.

The idea is to build self-confidence and spark interest in learning how computers work, all to perhaps plant the seed of a future career in programming.

There will be 1.4 million computing jobs by 2020 but only 400,000 computer science students by that time, according to Code.org, a nonprofit with a list of who’s who in the tech world on its advisory board including Twitter creator Jack Dorsey and Dropbox CEO Drew Houston.

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