Summer break is right around the corner for most schools and many parents are asking themselves some version of, “what are we going to do with the kids this summer?” Well, if you have a child in 6th through 9th grade in the Boise area STEMbusUSA has the answer for you! Enroll them in one of three VR camps being offered this summer. The dates and locations are:
Boise ID, Bishop Kelly: June 19th - June 23rd (9 AM - 3 PM)
Meridian ID, River Valley: July 10th - July 14th (9 AM - 3 PM)
Downtown Boise ID, North Junior High: July 24th - July 28th (9 AM - 3 PM)
STEMbusUSA camps are taught by local teachers. One of the teachers, Mark Hans, has been working with STEMbus for several years. He started out with them while he was teaching part time and attending Boise State University. The first class he taught with them used Java to create mods for Minecraft. It was a bit of a stretch for him as he was an education major at the time, and his Java expertise was limited. He ended up with a Java for Dummies book and started soaking it up. Last year, STEMbus created a new camp “Virtual Reality Experience: Game Creation with Unity” and Mark was one of the first teachers to run it. He is now working on creating new additions to the curriculum for this summer. Students do not need to have coding experience in order to participate. Mark told me, “we gradually introduce students to the idea that programming is the stuff that happens in the background behind all the fun stuff they experience on their computers and devices. By the end of the week and through lots of different fun activities, we have tricked them into getting many hours of coding experience.” I love that!
So what does a student learn at the camp? Using Unity, campers learn 3D modeling and game design skills while they develop their own Minecraft world. They are then able to explore the world using VR first hand using Google Cardboards, the Oculus Rift and Microsoft HoloLens. Technically speaking, they learn programming with Java, modeling with SketchUp, 3D design with Unity, and game design. Campers also learn design thinking, creativity/imagination, flexibility/adaptability and problem solving.
During a typical day, they introduce a new concept or tool related to VR and/or VR design. Mark said they usually have to tear them away from the screens to go outside for a few minutes to give their eyes a little break. Then they give them a challenge to work on for that day either using that tool or exploring that concept. After they give them a challenge and they have had a chance to work on it a little bit, Mark again has to tear them away to move around a bit and grab some lunch. After lunch, they work on their challenge, often showing each other their creations and comparing their similarities and differences. At the end of the day, the students are busy putting the finishing touches on their creations so they can show them to their parents when they get picked up.
I asked Mark what excites him most about teaching these camps and I just loved his response.
“There is a certain "WOW" factor with the VR camps both for the possible applications and the idea that "Hey, I can actually DO this!" It opens up a whole new world of possibilities that they may not have thought they could ever be a part of... but THEY CAN. I hope they get that they can act a part in this play and they don't have to wait around until they grow up to do it. I know it is only a week, a pretty insignificant amount of time during the span life of their life, but I'm hoping it's just enough to whet their appetite and expand their horizons so they know what is out there and what's waiting for them to explore. They are our future. We are depending on their curiosity to drive forward the human race like our curiosity has always driven us forward. Tapping into that curiosity and maybe aiming it a bit here and there is the key, I think. So I hope they get (and stay) curious about the idea that they can do something significant with their creations that can affect us all.”
If you are interested in signing your student up for one of the VR camps, head over to their website HERE and reserve your spot before they fill up! Don’t forget to also check out the other great camps that STEMbus is offering. If your student doesn’t fit the age range for the VR camp, there are other wonderful opportunities for younger students!