What to look for in a remote summer camp

May 20, 2020 |

By Courtney Dickinson

Covid has dramatically changed the summer of 2020. Programs that parents painstakingly identified are cancelled outright or transitioning to remote summer camp models. How can we, as parents, ensure that our kids have an engaging and fun summer amid the constraints of distance learning?  

The key to effective distance learning is to make sure it will be truly engaging for students. Below are five attributes that parents should seek in online learning programs.

1. Topics that authentically interest your child

First and foremost, give your child voice in picking the program. All of us concentrate better when we are engaged in a topic we chose and find meaningful! It is best to not “sign your child up” for a class thinking that it will go well without consulting them. Especially with the summer mindset, signing them up for a class they don’t want to do could cause kids’ resentment rather than a successful way to engage students in summer learning and projects. 

2. The opportunity to develop a real relationship with the teacher 

We all want to be seen and heard. Live virtual “classrooms” are essential for forming new teacher/student relationships. While watching a video, executing an assignment or project, and then sending it back in to a teacher may be a common distance learning practice, it is not one which honors or satiates students’ craving for real connection with teachers. Instead, look for camps that provide “synchronous” Zoom/ video call time when students and the teacher are on a video call together as an anchor component of any remote learning experience.  In a week long experience, this synchronous student:teacher connection time should happen every day.  

3. Programs that give students the chance to create something real 

Great learning catalyzes student curiosity and creativity by engaging them to make, persuade, and instigate. When a student’s role is to sit, listen, and watch a teacher perform or lecture, they are in a passive role, waiting. Alternatively, when a teacher functions as a facilitator of students’ experiences, they are catalyzing students to do, imagine, and make. Examples include a camp in which students create their own bird feeders or terrariums, a game design class that shows students how to build their own arcade game with cardboard, tape, and principles from Rube Goldberg machines, or a science class in which students turn their kitchen into a space for hands-on labs. Such camps scaffold students’ skills and knowledge to be able to do these things themselves, and the project is done by the student.  Ideally, great courses also make sure that these projects are meaningful and relevant to students’ concerns and lives.

4. Interactive Experiences 

Programs that put students in the driver’s seat of their experiences are ones in which kids will invest in, engage with and care about in a fundamentally different way than a lecture/listen format. In a virtual art camp, for example, kids can share their work with fellow classmates and engage in live group feedback sessions. Ideally, camps will also feature a “culminating event” during which kids can hold a teacher-facilitated virtual exhibit showcasing all of the students’ creations. These are readily feasible in the arts, but they also can come alive in the sciences and social sciences and in so many ways that defy what we thought possible!   

5. Skill-building, project based learning experiences – yes they can occur virtually! 

Look for courses that weave skill development into project-based learning. One example is a virtual filmmaking camp that teaches basic video editing skills and inspires kids to complete their own film by the end of the program. Some of the camp’s “work times” may occur either in “breakout groups” in Zoom, or when the video feed is off, but students know they are to share their work back at the end of a time slot framed by the teacher. This expectation to share a project result with peers and teacher(s) makes an otherwise impersonal assignment real. Project based learning – which comes in a wide array of forms – enables students to internalize, process, analyze, relate topics across disciplines, and create something new out of the material. This process of internalization and application to something meaningful – which is what project based learning is all about —  is what ultimately enables the learning to “stick.” 

Conventional wisdom tells us that remote learning will be abysmal. But when it is well-designed and led by teachers who focus on facilitating students’ dialogue and growth in thinking and creativity, students engage and discover what they are capable of – and that’s when remote learning can be highly successful.  

Courtney Dickinson is Founder and Director of Acera: The Massachusetts School of Science, Creativity, and Leadership. Acera is offering remote summer camp learning opportunities for kids ages 4 through high school.