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A one-of-a-kind coding camp for kids and teens

Hatch Canada is pioneering an approach for bringing art into computer science

Whatever you might think a coding camp is like—say, kids at laptops, you know, coding—it’s safe to say that Hatch Canada Camp isn’t that. Rather, it’s quite a bit more than that. There are the kids, and the computers, but what they’re doing is engaging with others and expressing themselves in ways that, for many parents who didn’t grow up with this level of technology, can be difficult to appreciate or even comprehend.

“The parents who come to us, come to us because they’re looking for a creative outlet for their kids using technology. They don’t want their kids to be zombies; they want them to be masters of their own destinies … the way to do that is through using tools to create things.”

The camps were founded by Emmanuelle Deaton, who comes from a background teaching history and civics, and Peter Kuperman, who comes from a computer science background. Their experience can seem like opposite ends of the spectrum, though, even if they’ve taken different paths along the way, both are proponents of the creative aspect of coding, which, given the state of the tools available, is prodigious. “It’s entirely creative,” Deaton said recently, “and that’s the most beautiful thing there is in computer language: the promise of computer language is the promise of creativity. Children can imagine something that they want to create, and then they can do that. That’s really powerful for them.”

“Parents don’t want their kids to be zombies”

Kuperman built the proprietary software that forms the basis of the camp programs, namely a tool that kids can use to efficiently engage their creativity while, sometime imperceptivity, learning the language of code. “Coding is inherently creative,” writes Kuperman. “Whether you are building a video game, medical software or the next great social network, you use the same tools … creativity and imagination.”

It’s also far more engaging than what you might assume if you haven’t experienced it first-hand. Says Deaton, “The parents who come to us, come to us because they’re looking for a creative outlet for their kids using technology. They don’t want their kids to be zombies; they want them to be masters of their own destinies … the way to do that is through using tools to create things.” The intention at Hatch Canada Camp since the beginning is to create an environment for them to do that.

A fresh approach

Many institutions have taken note, and the software is now being used in more than 250 schools across Ontario, including partnerships with private schools, including those with Upper Canada College and Branksome Hall. It’s impressive, though the passion that Deaton and Kuperman bring remains at the fore.

“I think people have got it so backward,” says Deaton in reference to how people might think of programming, but also how it has traditionally been taught. “I don’t think we need to teach logic to young children, we need to just let them use the language,” and then set them free, growing into that language the way that they do any other language. Yes, grammar isn’t perfect at the beginning, and that’s not the point; kids use language to express their desires, thoughts, and ideas first, and mastery of the language grows through that.

A bigger world

The Hatch program uses the same model of language acquisition. “To me it’s just literacy,” says Deaton. More prosaically, it’s also the language that kids will likely be speaking later in their professional lives. “Because the economy is changing so rapidly,” including the world of work, “we need to have a shift in what we consider necessary for students to learn. Part of educating students is to give them an understanding of the tools they’ll be using, and to develop the skills that they need to live.” For her that’s an ability to express themselves fluently, effectively through what will be the patois of their generation: code.  

By Glen Herbert


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