Last week, I visited the giant building on a San Francisco pier where Oracle Team USA stores the two catamarans it’ll use to try to defend the America’s Cup this fall. It was a rare opportunity and a remarkable experience, and I was one of just a few people who got to take the tour. Unless, that is, you count the kids attending Maker Camp who were watching as part of a virtual “field trip” held on a Google+ Hangout.
Now in its second year, Maker Camp is a joint project of Maker Media (the publisher of Make magazine and producer of the Maker Faires ) and Google. It’s an activity-packed camp for kids interested in science and technology, which happens not to have a physical campground. Daily projects let participants do stuff like build a robot out of an Altoids tin and a motor salvaged from an electronic toy; weekly webcasted field trips take them inside locales such as Team Oracle USA’s facility, Pixar and NASA.
The camp was originally designed to be completely virtual, something that participants did on their own at home, with the community part being conducted on Google+. But last year, its organizers found that organizations such as libraries were hosting groups of campers. And so this year, there are official Maker Camp affiliates: local clusters of campers who meet at a library, school or other location. The camp organizers support them with T-shirts, curricula and the like.
Maker Camp is free and open to campers all over the world. It’s officially designed for teenagers — in part because Google+’s terms of service require you to be at least 13 to sign up — but younger kids can participate via their parents’ G+ accounts. The season started on July 8 and runs through August 16; attendees can join when they please and participate a little or a lot.
I’m sorry the whole thing didn’t exist when I was of camp-going age — I might have found it more educational and entertaining than the real-world camp I did attend. But even grown-up ex-campers like me can enjoy the YouTube replays of Maker Camp field trips. Here’s the Oracle Team USA trip I witnessed in person: