Varsity Math Summer Camp is here, finally. By the end I hope to have an interesting answer to the question "what happens when you have no official curriculum?" In addition, I get to see what's it like to teach small groups for the first time in a while. Around 35 kids/class has become the norm. Long ago when I was less adept I maxed out at 20. What could I do with small numbers now? Session 1 has 20 kids, Session 2 not but 16. My room is going to feel massive.


Big Ideas: Space Travel, Computer Science
Small Projects: Quadcopter mechanics, engineering scenarios, financial literacy

I have 2.5 hours for four days with each crew. In my planning, the first thing on my list bolded and underlined was "OMG you better not lecture for 45 minutes on any of this." A lot of what we're studying the students have limited prior knowledge, so it would be easy to sit there and wax on about the nature of the Apollo launch system or whatever, but it'd be far more productive to let them find out how it worked on their own.

Second, I like the results when students are given multiple passes on a topic. Each 2.5 hour session is broken into small pieces to facilitate one talking point. Rather than spend a marathon on space, we'll do a little space over the course of the camp.


I thought we'd have a little fun at the beginning of each day. I subdivided the room into 4 groups. Each team competing for a varying number of Starbursts. Through happenstance, I found out about the Remote Associates Test, a old instrument for measuring creative thinking. Given three words, what's a fourth word that ties them all together?

In addition to that, a BrainQuest pack of 7th grade trivia. Should be fun with a group that just finished 11th grade.


You can find a billion of these of Amazon. I bought four of a model that was highly rated and not super expensive. Handy bonus, the radio is 4-channel allowed all four to operate simultaneously. The batteries last 5-7 minutes, but extras are easy to come by.

For roughly 30 minutes for 3 days, I will hand each group a radio, copter, and manual. They figure out how to fly it, why the propellers are oriented the way they are (two spin clockwise, two counterclockwise), what "six-axis" motion means, and how the copter might be changing its orientation in any axis. Then we race them. And I show them the big one.


This batch of students was in 7th grade when the Shuttle retired. They don't know much about it, or the litany of vehicles that get things into space, or even where we've been in space.

For two days, the students will do some research on the methods NASA and others have used to fling things into space. Plus we'll throw in some Flappy Space Program. Day 1, the variety of launch platforms used since the 60s. What were the payloads? Which ones had manned missions? Who are the new players? Can anyone find the sweet video of the SpaceX auto landing? Day 2, we get more specific and discuss the missions that went to Mars. Which ones failed? Which ones are currently ongoing? How did they get the vehicles to the surface? How insane is that Curiosity landing rig anyway?h

Each group will have a chunk of research to do and then they'll present to rest of their group. Initially I wanted to make some display pieces, but this is summer and anything we put in the halls will eventually be destroyed in the back to school cleaning. Though maybe we do something here.

Lastly, we spend some time on the STS specifically and a look at the technical problems that lead to its retirement.

I might modify this section a bit for Session 2, perhaps with a focus on the International Space Station, for the sake of variety.


A brief paper airplane contest, then a spaghetti construction project. Teams will be given an objective. Supplies will have costs associated with them. Structures of different heights will have different profit payouts. It's like Hotel Snap but with pasta.

Financial Literacy

Over two days we'll run through the basics of a spreadsheet, learning how to manipulate cells with formulas, sorting things, etc. In the end we'll look at how to build a budget, how recurring expenses affect a budget, and how you can determine the amount of money you make each day.

Second, we'll do a overview the housing market. Why are they so expensive? Am I really a sucker for renting?

Computer Science

The big one. We explore the Snap programming language. Everyone is a novice with programming, so there's going to be a lot of start up exercises. Eventually I hope to get them to the point where they can develop a maze. Or at a minimum draw some geometrically styled art.


I really want to value students time here. The kind of learning you do of your own free will should be engaging, interesting, and active. Bringing kids to school in the summer just to do all the talking would be a waste of this opportunity. I'm hoping this experience trickles its way into the regular school experience. The quadcopters already have me thinking about new ways to introduce 3D Vectors. What else could benefit?

AuthorJonathan Claydon