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Youngsters’ Skills Take Flight at University’s Summer Coding Camps

Eliana Lainez never thought she’d become a pilot.

Yet the eighth grader from Fowler Middle School in Plano is not only flying an aircraft, but she also programmed it.

Eliana is participating in one of The University of Texas at Dallas’ weeklong Summer Coding Camps. She joined other students, from fifth through 12th grade, in learning a new skill.

“I’m learning how to code a drone and make it fly,” Eliana said.

There are different tasks students learn, such as loading code into the controller and commanding the drone to fly in various formations.

“Some tasks are harder than others,” Eliana said. “Once you get the basics down, it’s not terribly hard. For example, making a square is easy, but it’s more difficult to program the drone to make a circle. It’s a lot more trial and error.”

The hands-on nature of the camp makes a big difference.

“It’s instant feedback,” she said. “Before I enrolled in the camp, I didn’t like the idea of sitting down and just typing. Once I started doing it and actually making it fly, it’s been more fun than I thought it was going to be. I like thinking about how to make the drone move.”

Coding camps at UT Dallas have grown tremendously in recent years. The University began the program by offering just one camp for high school students in 2012. Today, UT Dallas offers more than 200 camps, reaching an estimated 1,500 students of various ages. The entire program spans 12 weeks and covers more than 40 topics. It is the brainchild of Dr. Jey Veerasamy, senior lecturer in computer science and director of the Center for Computer Science Education and Outreach in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science.

“Anyone can excel at coding if they are passionate about it and are willing to put in the time,” Veerasamy said, adding that it is not for perfectionists nor the impatient.

“The great thing about coding is that it teaches life skills. Students will inevitably hit roadblocks. When it comes to coding, there are a million different ways to reach the same conclusion. Learning to code means learning patience, perseverance and problem-solving,” he said.

Because many students work at their own pace, Veerasamy said it’s possible for a student to leave the program having achieved a college sophomore level of proficiency in programming.

“Coding is learning through trial and error,” Veerasamy said. “Rarely does someone come up with an answer to a coding problem instantly. The beauty of it is that after students discover a solution to a problem, as they progress, they learn other pathways that are more efficient.”

Between 10 and 20 students fill the seats at each weeklong camp. There are few lectures; instead, students are encouraged to learn on their own in a hands-on approach. Veerasamy said he purposefully did not want the camps to feel like school; he wanted them to be fun and have a more collaborative, real-world feel.

“We know that not everyone is going to major in computer science when they leave our camps,” he said. “However, we know they will excel in whatever field they go into since they have the coding skills to handle the data they will encounter.”

Instructors are all UT Dallas students, or, as Veerasamy likes to call them, “professionals in training.”

As for Eliana, attending the camp may be a game changer. She discovered she likes coding more than she thought she would.

“It’s something I would consider as a career for sure,” she said.

Coding Camps

Each one-week, full-day camp costs $300; half-day, one-week camp is $150 and available mornings or afternoons. Camps run through Aug. 16. Learn more.

Source | UT Dallas News Center

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