Video games, robots, and coding dominate this STEM summer camp

Jul 20, 2018

Video games might not seem like the typical summer camp activity, but for campers at UMass Dartmouth's Computer and Information Science Camp, they're not just playing video games -- they're designing them.

The camp, now in its seventh year, aims to keep kids engaged in computer science and inspire them to take their studies further. During its most recent session, held from July 16-20, campers worked on a variety of different projects, including creating video game levels and programming robots.

The campers also worked on designing their own video game levels for games like Minecraft and Portal 2. They also get a taste of video game history, as camp leaders brought in a different historical gaming system each day from long before their time: Intellivision, Sega Genesis, NES, and the original PlayStation.

They also learned about programming using Python and Scratch.

The students wrote code utilizing the robots’ light sensors to "teach" the robots to follow tracks that are increasingly difficult.

“What they need to do is similar to what our undergraduate and graduate students do: program artificial intelligence,” said Clinton Rogers, the camp’s director.

Rogers designed one of the mazes to be so complicated that he thought it would be impossible for the campers to solve, but two completed the course in the first week.

The camp was taught by two UMass students: John Reynolds, a graduate student, and David Callahan, an undergraduate.

Reynolds said that teaching the camp is great practice for students who are teachers’ assistants, and makes him think through the concepts behind coding in different ways.

The camp is open to students between the ages of 11 and 14, many of whom come back until they age out of the program, which is offered during the second and third week of July each year.