Tech-inspired summer camps: 10 cool choices

Board games and movie nights, sure. But today's campers also get to learn digital filmmaking, make Web comics and gaze into outer space.
Written by Candace Lombardi, Contributor
When it comes to high-tech camps, summer diversions for the C++ crowd are now playgrounds for tomorrow's creative scientists, filmmakers, animators, photographers, engineers, astronauts, doctors, and, yes, even rock stars.

Today's campers use equipment and software you'd expect to find at elite college campuses or production studios, with camp prices varying from free to up to $2,000 per week.

Here's a list of some of the more intriguing camps we've come across.

CyberCamps' new Livewire program at Walt Disney World in Florida for kids 14 to 18 is $2,000 for the week, sans airfare. Teens learn about the physics of motion during a ride on a roller coaster and then design a virtual roller coaster at a computer lab in the middle of Epcot Center. They meet with designers from the Ideas Studio and get to record themselves at a Foley studio, where celebrities lay down tracks for Disney film animations. The program has a staff-to-participant ratio of 1 to 6, with adult chaperones in the dorms. Perks include the use of a personal cell phone if a camper doesn't already have his own.

Discovery Camp
The Discovery Camp run by the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Mich., offers day- and residential-camp programs for kids looking to explore the technology of past American innovators like Alexander Graham Bell. A week of day camp costs about $300, while residential camp costs slightly more, depending on the program. Kids perform "green" experiments while learning about agronomist and inventor George Washington Carver and assemble a Model T as they study Henry Ford.

The Exxon Mobile Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp
There is an admissions process for those who want to attend the Exxon Mobile Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp, but students who are accepted don't have to pay a dime. The two-week residential camp is funded by donations from NASA and Exxon Mobile--donations raised by The Harris Foundation, whose mission is to promote math, science and technology. The program is filled with hands-on lab projects and field trips to real-life science and engineering laboratories where kids can meet and talk to astronauts, doctors, pilots, engineers and others in tech-related fields. The program is intended to promote intelligence as a positive cultural asset and to emphasize that anyone can excel in the sciences, regardless of gender.

The New York Film Academy
The teen and tween camps produced by the New York Film Academy, whose alumni include the offspring of director Steven Spielberg and actor Tim Robbins, offer participants the opportunity to be a director, sound operator or gaffer, among other things. There are multiweek programs in 3D animation, and students can learn to shoot on 16mm film with an Arriflex-S camera or try their hand with digital cameras and instruction on Final Cut Pro software on Apple computers. Prices average a little more than $1,000 per week, plus $700 for those interested in room and board.

The intensive workshops for teens--offered in several locations, including New York; Paris; London; Florence, Italy; and Cambridge, Mass.--come in four-week and six-week stints, though there are some one-week programs. Kids ages 10 to 13 can choose between two weeklong day camp sessions and weekend programs offered at the school's locations in New York and Universal Studios in Los Angeles.

School of Rock
In addition to its regular, year-round program running nationwide, the Paul Green School of Rock Music--the franchise of schools started by the man who inspired the movie School of Rock--offers intensive two-week summer programs at several locations that include more than just jam sessions. Kids ages 8 to 18 get an opportunity to learn about sound-recording technology and designing stage shows.

ID Tech Camps
ID Tech Camps is another chain of summer camps hosted by leading universities in about 23 states. The camps, for kids ages 7 to 17, combine brain and body activities. In addition to game creation, video making, Web design, robotics and programming, the camps offer activities like karaoke, the Dance Dance Revolution music video game, sports, board games, movie nights and talent shows. At California locations, the camps offer surfing in the morning and tech activities in the afternoon for kids 11 to 17, while other locations have similar sport/tech programs. ID Tech Camps offer day, extended-day and overnight options ranging in price from about $729 to $1,129, with discounts for multiweek campers and families who send more than one child.

Kids on Campus
The Rochester Institute of Technology's Kids on Campus program aims to give new meaning to the term mixed media. In addition to traditional camp activities like swimming, many of the day camp activities for students in the fifth and sixth grades, incorporate technology with "real life" materials. The video creation class for older kids has them build the creatures to be used in video animation. Another one uses digital photography to analyze the movement of physics-based toys like the Slinky. Younger kids create physical art built from digital images and use digital photography to make canvas art, in addition to Web comics. The workshops for middle school students, in addition to animation, Flash puzzle quizzes and Web site building, include making pop-up museum books or mixed-media art books.

National Computer Camps
National Computer Camps, founded by Michael Zabinski of Fairfield University in 1977, now offers weeklong courses that give students the opportunity to learn 2D and 3D computer animation and digital video production, as well as software applications and programming languages. The camp also prepares students wanting to receive their certification in Network+ and A+ hardware. Branches are located at Fairfield University in Connecticut, Manhattan College in New York City, Ohio's Notre Dame and the Atlanta Christian College in Georgia. The camp costs about $1,100 per week for residential camp and about $800 per week for day camp (which includes lunches and dinners), in addition to $45 to $50 in lab fees, depending on the course chosen.

Digital Media Academy
The Digital Media Academy, now offered at seven college campuses, has courses for teens and kids in digital filmmaking, 3D game design, Web design, digital photography and publishing. One program has students learning the latest skateboarding techniques in the morning, with classes in video production in the afternoon. There is also an "iLife boot camp" dedicated to teaching campers the Apple media application suite. The camp also has courses for teachers looking to integrate more technology into their classroom and a pro series for adults seeking certification in specific applications.

Summer Institute for the Gifted
Courses at the Summer Institute for the Gifted include sessions titled "Meditation: Mantras, Mandalas, and Mindfulness," "Spying: Secrets, Surveillance, and Science," "The Search for Life in Outer Space: Astrobiology to Xenobiology," and "Artificial Intelligence: Are you replaceable?" Originally started in New Jersey for gifted students, the camp now offers day and residential programs for kindergartners through high school juniors in seven states. An admissions process and acceptance are required. Participating colleges include Princeton University, University of California at Los Angeles and UC Berkeley. Branches located on all-women college campuses such as Vassar College are strictly for girls. Students get a balance of exposure to technology and humanities, plus social and cultural activities. Camp fees are between $3,795 and $4,495 for a three-week course, depending on the college.

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