Secret Sauce of Successful Summer Camps

March 27, 2012 at 6:35 am 5 comments

Barb and I were invited to give a talk at Stanford earlier this month.  (The week after SIGCSE, and the week before our NSF site visit — March has been crazy.)  Scott Klemmer asked a really good question about Barb’s sustainable, effective, and replicable summer camps.  “So, what inference should we take from your work?  That we should do summer camps? That we should use your curriculum to get these camps?  Or that there’s a secret sauce for getting these results?”  Barb had a cute answer: “Do summer camps! That’s what’s most important. Please offer summer camps!”

Afterward, Barb and I talked about what the secret sauce is.  What leads to the results that Barb and Tom are seeing in the camps?  I think that we have a good answer, and it’s one that Scott, as an HCI guy, would like:

  • First, build on the research.  Kids who come to computing summer camps aren’t interested in lectures.  They want hands-on, project-based, discovery-driven learning opportunities.
  • Second, use formative evaluation and iterative development.  What made Barb’s camps work was the rapid feedback loop between Tom’s formative evaluations and Barb’s redesign of workshop content.  Sometimes, Tom got her feedback from one week, and Barb changed the summer camp design or curriculum before the next offering of the same camp.  Not everything worked.  Some camp leaders lectured too much.  Others had a dry sense of humor that turned off some students.

Here’s an example of something that wasn’t working.  One of the results that we talked about at our NSF poster session was that we found that girls were sometimes coming away with a greater sense that computing was “too hard.”  Tom did some observation studies, and found that that was happening in workshops where female leaders were saying, “Yeah, this is hard…but it’s really fun!” while male leaders only emphasized how fun it was!  Just that slight emphasis on “Yeah, it’s hard” interplayed with issues of self-efficacy and fixed mindset, and girls became more discouraged.  That’s something that’s hard to figure out, but easily fixed with some improved training of workshop leaders.

I’m hoping that Barb and Tom can write up this “secret sauce” when they do the larger, journal version of the SIGCSE paper.  It’s an important story of how they got there, because that’s even more of the “secret sauce” than just using Barb’s models and curricula.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Wu He  |  March 28, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    Hi Mark, this is an excellent post. I’ve been reading your blog for two years and really enjoy reading them. I read the conference paper about running summer camps from Barb and Tom. They did a great job. I hope to see their journal version of the paper too!

  • 3. carol tilson  |  April 2, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    I hope you continue to expand upon the “secret sauce” of these camps.. I’d love to know more of what works and what doesn’t. For the good of camps everywhere!

  • […] reminds me of a recent post on successful summer camps, where Mark Guzdial references a discussion on what was unsuccessful, being that female leaders at […]

  • 5. Watch What You Say | Academic Computing  |  May 25, 2012 at 9:25 am

    […] sense that computing was hard, even after they had been programming successfully during the camp. The reason lay in the phrasing of some of the (female) instructors: that was happening in workshops where female leaders were saying, “Yeah, this is hard…but […]


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