Fire Tech Camp model 'future' of tech education
Fire Tech Camp is at the forefront of a new way of teaching technology, says the camp’s founder Jill Hodges.
The tech camp for nine-17-year-olds offers day, residential and term-time courses for young people across the UK and teaches everything from 3D game development to digital music production.
The courses take a project-based approach and in some cases such as the organisation’s Python course, students cover as much in five days as across one or even two years at school, she told BusinessCloud.
“I do think this is the future,” she said. “Teaching tech skills is challenging for schools. It’s on the national curriculum but it’s challenging to have the right teachers and they’re only doing it for an hour per week in an environment where some kids are interested and others aren’t.
“In our sessions the kids who come really want to be there and if they’re week-long classes they get 30 hours so can gain momentum or confidence.
“We have to tear them away from the screen. They’re working with university students or teachers, they can find their tribe and rhythm and make progress.”
Hodges, who has a degree in computing and a background in financial services, started the organisation after being asked to volunteer at her kids’ tech class at school and realised that a new approach was needed.
“I was really shocked by what they were calling tech in school,” she said.
“It was all Microsoft Word and the kids knew more than teacher. I was concerned they weren’t getting exposure to tech skills.”
Following this she saw a real need for hard tech skills and a different kind of learning experience.
“Our courses are all about working on original projects so the students encounter problems and then learn all the different concepts by problem solving while doing them,” she said.
“The approach comes from needing and wanting to find a solution rather than the top-down educational experience of someone telling them what they need to know, teaching it to them and then telling them to practise it.”
Graduates of the Fire Tech Camp classes are then furnished with tech skills that will serve them well in their everyday lives, says Hodges.
“We hear of the kids going on to use the things they learn with us,” she said.
“For example if they learnt app design and then have to do a presentation in class, instead of doing a traditional one they make an app about it and everyone is really impressed.
“Once they have the skills when they see a problem they have different ways to solve it.
“Our goal is for them to become independent leaners.”
Lots of the students go on to study tech further at places like Imperial and Cambridge, says Hodges, with a previous graduate coming back to tutor for Fire Tech Camp.
Graduates of the camps are also looked on favourably by universities and will be at an advantage in the world of work.
“Universities say they really like to see courses like ours on applications because the kids are showing curiosity, initiative and interest,” she said.
“They’re skills kids really need so the more we can give them the more empowering it is. Even if they’re not going into STEM it’s still an advantage because these are problem solving and communication skills.
“One of the reasons our courses work so well is because parents get that and they don’t want their kids to be left behind like the non-tech parents are being.
“The economy is turning into a space where people who have these skills have a much easier time than those who don’t.”
The course – which is rolling out a digital learning platform this year to help reach people who can’t come to camps – also has a focus on empowering kids to be safer online and giving parents peace of mind.
“We embed digital citizenship in all the things we do – how to not share personal information and how to keep yourself safe online,” she said.
“Our focus is much more on empowerment through tech rather than locking everything down.
“We can’t supervise kids all the time but we can inform and protect them from really bad stuff and keep the dialogue going.
“When our kids start wandering around outside we tell them be careful or you can wind up in a bad neighbourhood. Be aware of your surroundings and make good choices.
“In the same way you would do that in real life you have to have the same awareness online.”