Maker Camp kicks off online

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When most people think of summer camp, they think of a resolutely analog experience. But Maker Camp, which just kicked off its second season, is designed to take place online and offline simultaneously. The Make Magazine/Maker Faire community got together with Google Plus to present a series of 30 fun projects in 30 days for kids to make at home, plus virtual field trips, via live video “Hangout”, to places like NASA, Disney Imagineering and the CERN particle accelerator.

Last year, the first year of Maker Camp, 1 million people logged on during the course of the week. Today the Google Plus Maker Camp group has almost 8000 members. So far it looks like a lot of middle-school age kids, both boys and girls, have proudly posted their take on the first day’s project, a propeller-driven boat made out of soda bottles. Some kids are doing the projects at home with friends or brothers and sisters, others at afterschool programs, with Cub Scout groups, or even at real summer camp.

Most projects are designed to be inexpensively constructed out of household materials. Each week has a theme, from vehicles, to games, to music and art. While they illustrate concepts like velocity and friction, there are no explicit lessons here; the goal is for kids to explore the joy of making.

You can see plenty of collaborative learning going on online, where participants share their successes and setbacks, ask and answer questions. There’s only one point of awkwardness: Google + limits participants to ages 13 and over to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which was recently stiffened. So some kids, who are identifying themselves as 11 or 12, are using their parents’ accounts. But that’s not enough to interfere with the fun!