In the News

September 13, 2017

APPcamp expands with 2.0 session for students looking to learn more advanced coding skills

UC Irvine’s APPcamp returned this summer with a new 2.0 session that offered middle-school students more advanced platforms such as Python and Arduino IDE.

“It has definitely been a joy to watch my kids graduate from APPcamp 1.0 and continue to challenge themselves,” said Marvin J. Maldonado, associate director of academic innovation, partnerships for UCI’s Samueli School of Engineering and Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences.

Cohorts of 20 to 25 teens descended onto campus for the weeklong immersion program into the fundamentals of mobile app development. Now in its fourth summer, ICS offers the intensive, hands-on experience to computer-curious teens looking to gain and grow their programming skills.

APPcamp 1.0 and 2.0 are intended for students who will be entering sixth through ninth grades with the average age range of the participants between 11 and 14.

In the first session, students learn the essentials of coding via block-based platforms Scratch and App Inventor. The students team up to create, test and publish games and mobile applications under the guidance of Maldonado and his dedicated team of UCI staff and computer science college counselors.

“The coding I learned at APPcamps was different from what I learned at school,” said Kayla Pak, who has participated in both sessions. “At school, we use "Hour of Code," which is a basic introduction to coding, but at APPcamp we used Scratch, where I got to create my own program in 1.0 and I created a game in 2.0.”

For three of the last four summers, Maldonado has led APPcamp in all logistical and training aspects while overseeing UCI’s Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) outreach program. Now in his role as associate director, he has expanded the program to include 2.0 where 1.0 graduates learn integrated coding with the power of micro-controllers such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi, as well as expanded mobile app development to include iOS and Android.

“Kids these days have really decided to ride today's computer science wave,” said Maldonado, who signs off on seven or eight finished projects by the end of each APPcamp week. “They group into threes and invent these stand-alone apps that they can then package and share with friends and family.”

Of course, the students’ time isn’t just spent in front of screens. Woven in-between the middle-school lessons are campus tours and quality time spent with their counselors. The aim of this mission-driven program is to not only expose teens to opportunities in STEM, but also give them a tangible experience of UCI’s rich research history.

Maldonado stressed how important it is for teens to see what UCI computer science researchers do on a daily basis. “It’s going to give them a good idea of UCI campus and computer science life,” he said.

The camp’s origins stem from the Samueli School’s tremendously successful FABcamp (a summer camp with a focus on engineering and fabrication), the brainchild of Engineering Dean Gregory Washington. However, computer science has steadily become a dominant piece of the STEM pie — the popularity of the Raspberry Pi a clear case in point — and it was clear that a sister computer science program was only natural.

APPcamp has continued to grow with more interested students each year and Maldonado expects the program to mature with the same intense popularity of FABcamp. For Tanuj, who has enrolled in APPcamp three times, taking 1.0 twice and 2.0 this summer, the experience has been life-changing.

“APPcamp is definitely one of the best summer camps I've ever been to,” said Tanuj. “You’re always learning, having fun and coding new stuff. ... It is awesome because the counselors are great, funny and amazing at what they do. They always keep the classroom atmosphere fun. We also get to learn how to code video games, and this camp has really inspired me to learn more.”

Tanuj utilized the skills learned in 1.0 to do programming for his VEX robotics team in 2016-17 school year. His mother, Rachna, believes that the camp is responsible increasing her son’s overall desire to learn more and study further. “ I have also noticed that Tanuj has had a strong desire to pursue his further education after high school in a renowned university such as UCI,” said Rachna.

With the successful close of APPcamps 1.0 and 2.0 this summer, the possibility of an APPcamp 3.0 is not far from reality. If it comes to fruition, Maldonado envisions the third installment would entail a deeper dive into iOS development and pairing APPcampers with ICS alumni.

“UCI’s APPcamp has the potential to make a huge impact on the future of ICS,” said Maldonado, who is an Anteater alumnus. “We are the only information and computer science dedicated school in the entire University of California system and this gives us the traction to do some amazing, inspiring work. With continued support from Dean Marios Papaefthymiou and our passionate undergrads, we can show the world the difference that coding can make.”

Check out a highlights video from APPcamp 2017:

— Katherine Li Smith

APPcamp expands with 2.0 session for students looking to learn more advanced coding skills

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