Camp opens young eyes to technology Bit By Bit

Paul Mayne // Western News

“Camp fills up very quickly. So people need to register as early as they can. Case in point, I’m the faculty coordinator and I cannot get my kids into the camp,” said Mike Katchabaw, Computer Science undergrad chair and coordinator for Bit By Bit camp. “And I didn’t leave it to the last minute either; it just filled up so fast and we had waiting lists week after week.”

Ben Reid didn’t choose to learn ‘the bro-code’ during his last summer vacation. Instead, he learned the binary code. And he didn’t go to a theatre camp and write a script during the hot summer days. Instead he rehearsed Java script.

That’s because Ben, 10, spent a week at the Bit By Bit summer camp at Western.

Ben, a student at Louise Arbour French Immersion Public School in London, loved the technology and robotics aspect at Bit By Bit. “We built robots out of Lego and programmed them to battle,” Ben said. “We also went swimming and played board games, too.”

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Since 1984, kids who have a knack for computers and technology like Ben have been attending the camp.

“The camp itself is a mixture of doing computer activities and also physical activity. But we also try to structure it to give them opportunities to express themselves and do things creatively. And it never ceases to amaze me what young minds come up with when they have the right tools to work with. It’s really impressive,” said Mike Katchabaw, Computer Science undergrad chair and coordinator for Bit By Bit camp.

As a kid, Katchabaw envied his friends who went to Western for computer camp.

“I was insanely jealous. My friend would come home and show me all this ASCII art that was printed off on a line printer. In today’s standards it looks so trivial, but it was so cool back then,” he said.

These days, Katchabaw said that, over the course of a week campers learn, Photoshop on the graphic design side, web development like Dreamweaver and tools like Scratch and Game Maker.

“We give them the tools and show them that they don’t just have to play games. They can make games. They don’t just have to go out there and surf the web. They can be putting up their own websites,” he added.

Over the years, the camp has changed dramatically.

“That’s what makes it fun,” Katchabaw continued. “It’s always fresh, it’s always new and it’s a bit of a challenge keeping up with children these days.”

But the true challenge, said Katchabaw, is getting his three children on the camp attendance list.

“Camp fills up very quickly. So people need to register as early as they can. Case in point, I’m the faculty coordinator and I cannot get my kids into the camp,” he laughed. “And I didn’t leave it to the last minute either; it just filled up so fast and we had waiting lists week after week.

“It’s sad. But it’s also great at the same time, because I’m hoping this means we can go bigger next year.”

The camp usually hosts between 30-35 campers each week, from ages 10-15 years old. There is an all girls week, which runs from Aug 11-Aug 15.

Counselors, who are students at Western University, run the camp.

For Ben, his mother Laura Reid got him on the list early.

They both share a love for programming and computers. Laura Reid is a Computer Science professor at Western and an on-and-off coordinator with Katchabaw for the Bit By Bit camp. In fact, in 1987 Laura was a counsellor at the camp for two years.

According to Reid, the camp is a great way to simultaneously teach children and the London community what computer science is actually about.

“I think people think it is just writing video games, but you can do things with computer science that can help the world be a better place,” Reid said.

That’s exactly what Ben discovered this past summer. “He loved the camp,” said Reid and, “he encourages other children to give Bit By Bit a try.”