I’m a few days into my second camp of the summer. A few weeks ago, a colleague and I did a Sewing camp that ran 3 hours a day for 5 days, and now a different colleague and I are doing a Scratch programming camp that is also 3 hours a day (but this one will just run 4 days because of the July 4th holiday).
These two camps are very different experiences for me. The sewing camp was a smaller group (13 girls, I think?); the coding camp is 22 kids (mix of boys and girls, but mostly boys). Both are creating a product, but there’s something very different in creating something you can hold versus something on a screen. I love both, and enjoy teaching both, but it’s a different kind of experience. With sewing, you do a lot of ripping out in order to fix mistakes, but you also, at a certain point, are forced to just let it be, and I kind of have a soft spot for projects (my own and others’) with visible flaws. With coding, there’s always that opportunity to tweak things and see what happens. Makes it harder for me to feel like something is “done.” And sometimes those little flaws cause the entire project to fail!
It’s interesting watching the kids in terms of that difference. Some of our sewing campers had a hard time with even a single wonky stitch, while others were happy to just fly through a project so they could get to the next thing. Of course, the latter group then learned about how to repair something that has come apart–when you fly through too fast, it doesn’t hold! We have a few coders who are working deeply on single projects, really trying to match their visions and get things right from the start, and others who embrace the shorter challenges, diving in with lots of code and then debugging until the project works (or abandoning it in favor of something else, but usually persevering!). There’s no “right” way to do it. In the end, both approaches lead to an increase in skills, and I can see both in myself, so it’s easy to empathize. As long as everyone is completing projects and learning, it’s good.
Both groups of kids are remarkably self-motivated and curious and fearless. Middle schoolers are just the perfect age for this kind of stuff–old enough to take a bit of instruction and run with it, and young enough to embrace the joy of making unselfconciously. The main difference between the two camps is just number of children. But also, the helping with coding is more demanding than the help with sewing, or at least more varied. The kids are in very different places in terms of their previous exposure and skill levels, and also in terms of how complex their projects are. With sewing, there were variations, but not as extreme.
But, what I am really thinking about right now is time (thus the title of this post). 3 hours a day, and it FLIES. We have a snack break, but basically, we are going strong that whole time. I can’t speak for the kids, but my sense is that the time is going by fast for them as well. When you have a chance to really just settle into a project, whether tangible or digital, you lose track of time. For me these two weeks, the project is teaching and helping kids troubleshoot (very little time spent doing all-group instruction; the vast majority is one-on-one assistance). For the kids, it’s of course whatever they are making. I know we benefit from the fact that these kids are here because presumably they want to be–they have some interest in the topic/skill. But I’m wondering about time. I know that sometimes during the school year, 50 minutes can feel like a long time, but maybe that’s partly because you can’t really settle in. Once you start to settle in, it’s time to be thinking about when you should give a heads-up for clean-up, or whether you have time to start on or introduce some new thing. With 3 hours, it just feels so much looser, and in a weird way, that looseness lends itself to kids being far more focused and on-task. The hardest part of each camp day for me is that last half hour–not because I’m worn out (although I might be!) but because I’m suddenly aware of the clock. Wondering, with each question, whether there’s time to answer it today or if it should wait until tomorrow. Trying to make sure I don’t lose track of time and miss getting the kids to the pickup area. I think the kids become aware of the clock as well–once the few kids who leave a bit early to go to lunch leave, everyone is restless.
What’s interesting is that nobody seems to be watching the clock during those first two and a half hours. Today I got to school at around 7:30 to start getting ready. I didn’t look at the clock until the first kid arrived around 8:45, startling me out of whatever I was doing at that moment. Then I didn’t look at the clock again until 10:45, and the only reason I looked then was because I wondered about snack; none of the kids had asked about having a break, but I guess my internal clock knew it was about that time.
Between 11:30 and 12:00, I can’t even count how many times I looked at the clock.
I don’t think there’s an answer in terms of class times changing, but I do need to reframe my own relationship with the clock. I think I’ve even posted about this before! But these camps are really highlighting for me what can happen if you aren’t worried or thinking about time. If I could capture that spirit faster, and teach myself to push the clock out of my mind for longer stretches of the 55-minute class periods we do have, it could be pretty powerful.