The University Libraries, in collaboration with the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT), recently hosted the eighth annual ICAT Maker Camp.

Maker Camp is a four-day summer camp for middle school students, ages 11-14, designed to harness students’ creativity, introduce methods of design in both physical and digital realms, and grow their maker mindset. Campers receive hands-on experience with building, coding, creativity, and critique and are encouraged to act on their curiosity.

In previous years, the campers designed musical instruments. This year, the camp’s co-directors, Sara Sweeney Bear, Scott Fralin, and Max Ofsa of the University Libraries and Phyllis Newbill of ICAT, switched to inventing arcade games. 

The physical structures of the games incorporated such materials as 3D printed parts, which the campers designed in TinkerCAD; lights or sounds controlled by a Raspberry Pi micro computer; a multitude of sensors like photo-resistors and pressure plates; Scratch coding language; and cardboard, tape, hot glue, rope, string, tennis balls, old frisbees, and costume jewelry. They followed an iterative design process for prototype creation called D.I.C.E or Designate, Ideate, Create, and Evaluate. 

Camp began with several warm up activities, like creating something to wear or carry to help them be successful during Maker Camp. Students created tool belts, backpacks, a pretend robotic arm, and even a thinking cap. 

Camp co-director Max Ofsa, University Libraries' 3D Design Studio manager, created a tool belt during warm- up activities.

Camp co-director Max Ofsa, University Libraries' 3D Design Studio manager, created a tool belt during the warm up activities.
Camp co-director Max Ofsa, University Libraries' 3D Design Studio manager, created a tool belt during warm-up activities.

After warm up activities, campers started to form groups with creative names, such as The Iron Toads and Squirrel Power. “Once they have some ownership of their team, they developed a brand for themselves. You can see it in what they end up building,” said Ofsa, University Libraries' 3D Design Studio manager. 

The rest of camp was dedicated to creating arcade games. “We had everything from a tilting maze that used magnets to trip you up as you guided a ball into a goal, to a ball-launching game with targets on a motorized belt,” said Sweeney Bear, Fusion Studio manager and learning space assessment coordinator. 

Students created their games with strategy in mind.

Students show off their games during a public presentation.
ICAT Maker Camp students assemble their arcade game, Tilty Board, for a live demonstration.

“Maker Camp gives kids skills and autonomy. They get the time, space, and permission to make something amazing,” said Newbill, ICAT outreach and engagement coordinator. “What the kids enjoyed the most was having the freedom to make whatever they can imagine!”

When campers were asked what their favorite part of camp was, their faces lit up with smiles as they said BUILDING! Other popular answers were coding, designing, and working with all of the library’s technology. 

students learned coding during camp
One of the favorite activities of camp was coding.
Students work on coding their arcade games.
Students work on coding to program sounds and lights for their inventions.

“I think it makes them look at their world a little differently,” explained Sweeney Bear. “We try to give them resources and skills that they can keep using after camp. Most of the supplies we use are things they could find around the house. The software is all available for free online, and they can 3D print designs for free here in the library. In theory, the only thing they would have to buy to keep practicing these skills at home are the Raspberry Pi computer and sensors, and they’re not absolutely necessary for making a fun game.”

On the last day of camp, campers were excited to take to the stage in the Moss Arts Center and describe and share the designs they created together.

Students show off their arcade games during a presentation at the Moss Arts Center.
People in the audience come on stage to try the arcade games that ICAT Maker Camp students made.

“My favorite part was seeing it all come together at the end and building something awesome with my friends," said Carson Williams, camper, age 11, who did the programming for his team. “I used Scratch, a Raspberry Pi, and a breadboard to wire the sensors. I built the code in Scratch so it gives you a point when the sensor is triggered.”

“My favorite part of camp was using all of the tech[nology] at the library," said camper Alice Bartos, age 11. “I liked designing the 3D printed coin we used as the prize!”

“Kids who feed their creativity and channel their energy in productive ways grow into adults who do the same," said Bear. “We need more adults like that. I think middle school leading into high school is when we traditionally stop seeing play as a part of learning, and that’s a shame. We can play to learn our whole lives. I want these kids to leave with a spirit of play and creativity that they can carry with them for years to come.”

During the project presentation at the Moss Arts Center, students are recognized for their great work during the camp.
Campers pose for a portrait on stage of the Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre in Moss Arts Center.

“I think Maker Camp is one of the few camps to appeal to such a young age group, especially with the technology and concepts they are tackling,” said Ofsa. "High school ends up being pre-college any more, and getting these campers interested in very real disciplines like science, technology, engineering, and design can help them figure out what they might have a knack for.”

Maker Camp was made possible by a team of creative professionals from the University Libraries, ICAT, Pamplin College of Business, College of Engineering, and College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences’ School of Visual Arts.

Maker Camp 2020 is already in the works, and the planning process has begun. Next year’s camp will also be in Newman Library, where the campers have access to the University Libraries’ tools in the 3D Design, Media Design, Fusion, and Virtual Environments studios as well as the space to collaborate and create. 

— Written by Elise Monsour Puckett

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