Methodology: The KodeConnect Approach to Summer Camp

This was our first summer coding camp through MIT’s Zero Robotics program. The past 5+ weeks have been amazing and were exactly what I imagined a summer camp would be like. Our middle schoolers were challenged. Our instructors were challenged. And in the end we all walked away with something to be proud of. It was truly an amazing ride.

We won the regional competition and will represent Massachusetts next week in the finals going against 11 other states. I couldn’t be prouder of this group of kids! We have a great group with individuals from various backgrounds and ages. Someone asked me how we were able to achieve so much success in our very first camp; and not referring to just our win, but also exposing the kids to coding and having them actually be engaged and excited. In the end, I think our success can be attributed to creating an environment to learn, using an agile approach, and having a strong support system for the kids.

Creating an environment to learn

We were truly fortunate to find HarborOne & StoneHill at the Downtown Center for Community Engagement (DCCE) location in downtown Brockton. The DCCE provides assistance to nonprofits by opening their space for operations and classrooms. Thankfully, we were able to acquire a room large enough for 14 middle schoolers to code and practice some of the activities from the curriculum. It was essential for us to create a space in the classroom that encouraged the kids to feel and relate to the course and the competition’s mission.

Space to act out the coding game was crucial to strategizing!

With help from family, we decorated our space like, well, space. This is about coding SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellite) in space. The MIT Zero Robotics program gave us the tools we needed to explore and learn about programming. A solid curriculum and a great competition fostered a fun and welcoming environment for the kids.

Having an Agile Mindset

Having the space and curriculum was great, but in order to be successful, the agile mindset was key. Agile is used in the software development universe as an approach to creating some of today’s most innovative software. Being an Agile Coach is my day job, so I regularly coach professional teams and, at its core, agile is all about incremental improvements on the final deliverables. Applying this mindset to the context of the summer camp meant being able to teach and reflect on what we had accomplished. We also took the time to evaluate things we thought could be improved. This included exercises in addition to the curriculum that promoted a deeper level of thinking. We also tried other things:

  • Retrospectives after class to make sure we weren’t far off with how much the kids were learning
  • Games like Paper Airplane Factory, to encourage pairing and team building, while teaching the kids unity and a sense of community
  • Some Mob Programming during our final round submission to increase engagement, knowledge share, and different perspectives from most of the group
Reflecting on the day in order to improve how we approach tomorrow!

That reflection was key, since one of our teams was struggling with strategy and were able to use what they’d learn from their reflections during the final coding challenge. I can definitely attribute a large part of improving and learning to the agile approach we used.

Having a Solid Team

Lastly, we wouldn’t have accomplished what we did without a solid, united team. Successfully executing a program like this requires a herculean effort from everyone for the benefit of the kids. The great people at MIT and the Zero Robotics team organized a really cool opportunity we were fortunate enough to be able to participate. Dan was a fantastic instructor for our program. He’s a great kid, who really related to the participants and challenged them throughout the entire journey. We knew we had a winner when we met Dan and he is a true example of what we are looking for in our instructors at KodeConnect; someone who believes in the mission and understands it’s not for everyone, but we can at least make it fun and learn something in the process. HarborOne and StoneHill’s DCCE crew who not only helped us with all the logistics in our space, but they also lent a hand when we needed assistance with the other small things. The other teams across the state were also welcoming, and even after we won the state competition, other programs reviewed our code and helped us improve for finals. Our assistant, John, who you could sometimes find getting the kids to do push ups during breaks, helped in keeping order, watching after the kids, and distributing snacks. The parents played a crucial role in getting the kids to practice every day and providing feedback. And of course all the kids had to do the work and take home the win! Maybe some days they would have preferred to play Roblox, but they got everything done when it mattered. They deserve the win, and I’m thankful for everyone that played a part in our program. A true reflection of a solid team and I am so proud of our accomplishments.

These were all key to the success of our first summer program. We will look to do this again next year and hope to have the same result of success whether we win it all or not.

Watch our highlight video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsNqiDb1Wpo&t=5s

Learn more about the zero robotics program here: http://zerorobotics.mit.edu/

Find out about KodeConnect: http://www.kodeconnect.org

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