Nearly 41 years ago, I came home from Berklee College of Music for Xmas break. My mother instructed me to find a summer job before I returned to Boston. I knew that I could probably get a summer camp job, but no one would hire me to be a music counselor because I didn’t play the guitar. During my otherwise ill-fated interview at Deerkill Day Camp in Suffern, NY, the camp director saw that I had computer programming experience in high school, pointed to a mini computer in his office, and asked me to write a program do so something I can’t remember. Having not programmed anything in at least six months and never before on that hardware, my program miraculously worked. I was hired on the spot to lead one of the world’s first computer programming camp programs for K-8 kids and made a member of the camp’s senior management team. I was also given a staff and budget.
When I arrived for the first summer, my VIC-20 “lab” was in a horse trailer parked next to what might generously be called a “pond” and the camp goat. Season one was such a great success that they bought me Commodore 64 computers and expanded my facility for the next summer. I recently found this photo showing the extension. Yes, they built a porch for the trailer! Several times/day we needed to bring the computers inside to secure them and then back outside again. You might say that my career was born in a manger.
There is so much more to tell you about what we did in that trailer. It is the DNA of my entire career. Kids used computers to make things in 1983! There was complete gender parity. All kids got a taste of programming while some could choose programming as “their project” and use the machines during open time. Logo programming was at the core of both our projects and philosophy. I learned a ton about teaching, learning, the competence of children, and life working at that camp. Bob Rhodes, the camp director, gave me my first copy of Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas. That job at Deerkill Day Camp is 80% responsible for me being an educator today.
I still dream of spending my summers at Deerkill. I need to make that happen soon.
Veteran educator Gary Stager, Ph.D. is the author of Twenty Things to Do with a Computer – Forward 50, co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, publisher at Constructing Modern Knowledge Press, and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools thirty years ago and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Gary is also the curator of The Seymour Papert archives at DailyPapert.com. Learn more about Gary here.