This camp is IT. In a world increasingly powered by IT acumen and computer-generated wizardry, Panda Programmer has attracted kids who want to learn that coding magic. Gaming fans, many kids dream of designing their own.
Founded by Kentlands resident Will Corbin in 2015, Panda Programmer now offers coding classes in more than 20 schools year-round. “Kids are very excited about computer programming,” Corbin said. “They’re definitely getting things, creating things—their own original work and original games.”
Coding is not currently taught at the elementary and middle school levels. “I feel like we’re filling a niche, a need that is not being addressed with public schools now. Kids eat it up and are doing real work,” Corbin said.
Most afterschool programs are an hour at the elementary level, but Panda Programmer classes run for two hours. “Parents often worry this is too long. But then they pick up their child who says, ‘You’re here already?’” Kids, he added, like coding because “it’s creative and fun.”
This summer will be Panda Programmer’s fifth camp season, welcoming kids in kindergarten through eighth grade.
While the camp is primarily a coding camp where kids learn how to create games and animations, Corbin said, “I like to get kids off of the computers as a break.” Each summer, the camp has incorporated foreign language and music. Last year, campers learned Chinese. This year, a professor and Ph.D. linguist will teach them French. For music, campers will learn to play the ukulele.
“At the end of the week, kids will perform a song in French with the ukulele and create a computer animation of the same song. This year’s song is about marionettes,” Corbin said.
The Panda Programmer curriculum is structured and sequential, but its implementation is flexible to meet the needs of each individual student or camper.
Panda Programmer lessons build on each other, so kids enrolled in classes continue to progress during the summer and then seamlessly continue with classes once they resume in the fall, Corbin explained. “We keep track of where they are. … This provides continuity with our afterschool programs. … Kids hit the ground running in camp and feed back to afterschool.”
Camp instructors are computer science majors—undergrads or recent college graduates with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. “We are programmers teaching programmers,” Corbin said.
And as programmers, they know that coding is an individual and creative process; flexibility is built into the day-to-day running of the camp.
“We group by age and ability level,” Corbin said, “but it’s a dynamic thing. Kids can move to a different group, if that makes them more comfortable.” Campers are also welcome to work at their own pace—or at the group’s pace.
The camp offers a 6 or 7 to 1 camper to instructor ratio, but instruction is individualized. “Mainly kids work together in groups of two or three or they work on their own,” Corbin said, and instructors offer one-to-one guidance.
“We could do coding all day,” Corbin said, and some campers elect to do just that. But most embrace the music and language breaks. For the full-day, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. camp, campers can choose to spend an hour for French and an hour for ukulele in the morning or afternoon. Panda Programmer also offers before-care 8 to 9 a.m. and after-care 4 to 6 p.m.
Coding camps are few and far between with only a few offered in Montgomery County. Competitors’ price points per week are nearly twice that of Panda Programmer. Panda Programmer weekly sessions at Rachel Carson Elementary, Cold Spring Elementary and Sligo Creek Elementary are $425 for full day and $260 for half day. Before-care is available for an additional $70 per week, and after-care for an additional $95 per week.
For more information, visit www.pandaprogrammer.com.