If you want your kids to be more productive this summer, rather than wasting it on mindless TV or video games, drop them off at your local Microsoft Store. Not only would you get a few hours of “me time,” but your kids will pick up some new computing skills that they can apply to their careers in the future. The five free Microsoft Store YouthSpark Summer Camps, taking place from late May until August inside all Microsoft Store location in the United States, will focus on coding, robotics, 3D and mixed-reality moviemaking, and philanthropy. Parents can sign their kids up via the Microsoft Store website.
Designed for kids ages eight and older, the STEM-based (science, technology, engineering, and math) courses last from one to four sessions, depending on the activity, and each session takes two hours. Each course is led by Microsoft Store employees, with easy-to-understand curriculum developed by Microsoft product engineers, and using Microsoft hardware like Surface tablet computers. The availability and class sizes will be determined by the size of the store.
One course destined to be a hit is Minecraft Coding. Using Microsoft MakeCode, the students learn about game design and how it is coded, and, in turn, then use their newfound knowledge to create their own programming. The course consists of four two-hour sessions, and while the training can get pretty deep by the end of the course, Microsoft said kids do not need to have any prior coding knowledge.
But if you want to start your kids on the basics, sign them up for Beginners Fun with Computing and Coding, a partnership with Code.org. This introductory, two-hour one-day course is actually for children between the ages of six and eight, and it guides them to think like a computer when it comes to coding.
A slightly more advanced coding class is Code a Talking Robot with Ohbot. For this course, Microsoft partnered with Ohbot, a company that makes educational robots, to teach kids how to code for a robot with seven motorized expressions that moves and talks, using a graphical programming language that’s based on MIT Scratch. In addition, the lesson teaches how to solve problems in software. The course is made is up two two-hour sessions.
If your child is more of a creative type, Make Your Own Movie with 3D and Mixed Reality teaches how to create a movie, from beginning to end. The course, which takes place over four two-hour sessions, also introduces students to 3D drawing and how to integrate digital elements within footage, and Microsoft’s Mixed Reality technology.
The fifth option teaches kids how to use technology to raise awareness for causes that interest them. Called Create a Difference in Your World, students learn about fundraising, volunteering, holding community events, and other skills related to humanitarian work, in the four two-hour sessions. The focus here is more on life skills than technical abilities, but kids learn how to use technology to further their goals.
At the end of each camp, the students present to their friends and family what they have learned and created. It is hoped that each student would continue to grow his or her skills. Ohbot, for example, offers a free app that students can use at home.
Microsoft gave us a tour of the five camps, which a few are already being held at various Microsoft Store locations. It’s evident that there are serious skills to be learned, but it all revolves around fun. None of the courses are particularly difficult to grasp, but they can become very complex, particularly with the robot coding we saw. While there is the expected but unspoken push of Microsoft products, nearly all the lessons are universal and can be applied to non-Microsoft gear.