CodeVA’s Eureka Workshop: For the digitally inclined (or not!)

Your kid may be a computer whiz, or she may just like to tinker around and figure out how the world works. Every child with an inquisitive mind is welcome at CodeVA’s Eureka Workshop Summer Camp, a week-long day camp that’s committed to showing off the fun side of computer science.

CodeVA, a non-profit promoting computer science education, burst onto the scene last year with new and exciting summer camp options for kids. To them, the attributes of computer science can be built up with projects that don’t even involve actual computers–it’s a state of mind, an ability to solve problems confidently and creatively.

This summer, your kids (providing they’re going to be in 1st – 5th grade come fall) will have all sorts of fun in a truly unique environment learning totally useful skills, even if technology doesn’t turn out to be their bag.

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Here’s a thought-provoking quote from their website:

Today the classroom computer is the new pencil. The new calculator. The new slide projector. The new textbook. The new standardized test administrator. The new poster board.

By assigning the computer all of these amazing new roles, we ironically diminish its power to teach. Computer programming–even a course teaching only basic concepts–frees students to develop critical thinking skills and to create.

Maggie Smith of CodeVA was gracious enough to go into more detail about their week-long Eureka Workshop Summer Program, which debuted last year with great success and popularity. Many of the weeks are already booked for 2015, which bodes well for the new company, whose enthusiasm for their subject (as well as their young clientele) is contagious.

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Tell me a little about how CodeVA began. It’s such a novel idea to me, but seems like such a clear fit with what kids are into these days.

We promote computer science in three separate ways: teacher training, advocacy, and children’s programming. Eureka Workshop is where all the fun happens with the kids. This is our second year offering summer camps. All of our programming uses art and off-screen activities to get kids open to computational thinking and computer science. Eureka Workshop hosts an after-school program, summer camp, and has other kid-centered events throughout the year.

What kinds of kids come through Eureka Workshop?

We have had such a fun variety of kids. I think the reason we get such an array of folks is that we are offering something that so many kids–no matter where they’re from–are completely fascinated with. Since our first adventures in summer camp last year, we have kids from all over the Richmond Metro area as well as from a variety of educational backgrounds. My favorite statistic is that in our first year, we have had approximately a 50% split in the number of girl and boys enrolled in our programs.

Do you see them leaving with any particular skills that they didn’t have when they arrived (besides the computer skills they came there to learn)?

Because we’re incorporating art with computer science and computational thinking skills, I feel as though the kids get to exercise their creativity and really become problem-solvers. A lot of challenges seem to be resolved at the art table. Whether that’s the intended art assignment or not, a lot of concepts and thoughts become clear while the kids are moving their hands and creating.

Walk me through a day in the Eureka Workshop.

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This year we have a couple new events joining our day. We have an optional Early Bird Art activity. If a child needs to come before our 9:00 AM start time, they can sign up to start the day with an art activity. There will be two morning sessions each week. Within those sessions the campers will be split into two groups. One group will participate in an off-line activity, while the other group has screen time. Then they switch. Each classroom will have a few full-class activities and then some more focused small-group activities. When our morning sessions are over, some kids will stay for a monitored brown bag lunch and continue on to our afternoon activities.

What would you say to a parent who’s nervous about sending their child to camp?

We work very hard to make sure all children are made to feel comfortable and enjoy themselves at camp. Our student-teacher ratio is kept low. Additionally, we have a “mild, medium, and spicy” philosophy about each challenge or task the kids do, so our teachers and explainers have several options for engaging all students within one task, regardless of their skill level. That way one child who may need an extra challenge (or “spice”) can be directed to an alternate skills-appropriate way to solve the task at hand. Equally, if a child is feeling a bit overwhelmed, there are paths to the same outcome with few frustrations. Our goal is to make computer science fun and interesting to every student.

Visit CodeVA’s website to register for week-long Eureka Workshop Summer Camps or simply opt to donate a little money that will go directly towards a scholarship. These are the creators of our future, after all!

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Check out our exhaustive list of day camps in the area and more summer camp info as the week unfolds!

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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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