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Camp Kaleidoscope

Around 2005, finishing my college degree, I became disillusioned with academia and decided to stop the process of applying for a Ph.D. in mathematics. That having been what I'd done all my life, I wasn't quite sure what I was doing next.

Over the next year I tried to absorb as much as I could about the world of learning and education. I was greatly influenced by a class with Mitch Resnick, who led me to the writings of Seymour Papert, specifically Mindstorms. I also discovered John Holt's work, and spent time visiting free schools and other alternative schools.

After teaching a hands-on science class at a nearby Montessori school the next year, it occurred to me that summer camps were a great way to try out ideas and a way to see first hand if radical ideas that made sense to me emotionally actually panned out.

Camp Kaleidoscope opened in 2006 in a church in Harvard Square. The first year had lots of kinks to work out. It grew in size from 3 - 10 children a week its first year to 60 or so by its third summer.

The idea of camp was to cross the affective container of a free school -- trying to let intrinsic motivation be the guide -- with interactions inspired by Papert's constructionism. The physical layout of the place was to some extent inspired by the Montessori way of thinking -- stations were available, but the contents were electronics materials, computers to work with creatively, art materials, and games and toys.

The rhythm of the camp was to have one or two meetings a day and otherwise leave the rest of the day for children to explore. Throughout the day, children were able to work with adults to learn a new skill, work on their own, or hang out. Our core belief was that our job as adults was to make the environment compelling to children rather than directly coercing them into beneficial activities.

I wrote extensively about this in a blog at the time. Some articles that stand out to me from then:

This work is still very meaningful to me. I felt like we hit a huge idea in the intersection of constructionism and free schooling, and barely scratched the surface. At present, the closest living example is Parts and Craftsin Somerville. One of Parts ands Crafts founders is Will Macfarlane, who worked with me closely the first three summers of Camp Kaleidoscope.