As community centers, libraries are always looking for new ways to offer educational programming. Some libraries have been fortunate enough to incorporate complete Maker spaces in their buildings, but for those that don’t have the funding or space, all is not lost. Using existing areas and the help of community members, libraries can easily host tech camps (coding, robotics, and more) for patrons.
Why tech camps?
There is a demand for software and engineering employees that is not being met. There were only 48,700 computer science undergraduate degrees awarded by accredited U.S. universities in 2014 and more than 1.1 million jobs for software developers. Even if we aren’t grooming the next generation of developers and tech geniuses, tech camps are great because proficiency and fluency in computer programming, learned early, can help with problem solving and independent thinking.
How do we get started?
The first step in creating your tech camp is to decide what style of event you want. Will you be teaching coding, hardware, or both? Do you want to have a one-off event in which students finish their project in an hour or two? Would you like to host a hackathon or a lock-in and keep the students for eight to 12 hours? Is this camp going to progress over multiple days with a specific task for each meeting? Depending on the structure you choose, your needs will be different.
One concern that most folks have before starting a tech camp is finding the right instructor in-house. I am the director of the Austin chapter of ChickTech, and the number one concern my volunteers have is that they aren’t “technical enough.” When hosting your camp, you’ll need folks of all skill sets to make your event a success. If you don’t have someone on your staff who can teach at your camp, you can find volunteers via Idealist (idealist.org), VolunteerMatch, AllForGood, or other such sites. I have had great luck with VolunteerMatch here in Austin, but which tool is right for you is going to depend on your area.
Next, you’ll need supplies. Depending on which projects you want to offer, you might need all or some of the following:
- Computers or tablets for each student (already in the library or BYOD)
- Open source software for programming ($0)
- A trainer ($0–$100/hr.)
- Hardware ($16/ea. LilyPad Arduino, $200/ea. LittleBits Kit, $36/ea. Raspberry Pi, $99/ea. The Finch, $10/ea. USB)
- Misc tools and supplies ($200–$1,000)
Tools such as YouCaring (youcaring.org) or GoFundMe (gofundme.org) can run a campaign to get the money you need, or you can create an online wish list and promote it in your community. You can also consider hosting a tech drive at the library for used hardware in exchange for fine forgiveness. I have also had success with local tech companies with regard to donations of money or hardware. These firms look at such contributions as an investment in their future employees and will often donate in exchange for the simple mention of their name at the event.
Finding the right tools
Now that you’re all prepared you need to pick the tools for your event.
There are some final things to remember before kicking off your event. You want to write a clear code of conduct, which should include rules for treating other students fairly and provide you with coverage should you need to remove someone from the event. Be sure to have parents’ permission and remember to note any security risks your workshops might pose.
Be aware of differing experience levels and have volunteers help to keep the more experienced attendees excited while still giving less experienced students the attention they need. We often assume that kids are tech savvy just because they grew up around more devices than we have, but this is often not the case.
Finally, have fun!
Nicole C. Engard is Director, Austin, TX, Chapter of ChickTech, and a Content Strategist at Red Hat