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Camp Runway teaches girls power of tech

Girl Scouts explore coding, circuitry, and e-textiles at SoIC's Camp Runway E-Textiles Summer Camp

(This article originally appeared in the School of Informatics and Computing newsroom:

By Ken Bikoff

The mission of the Girl Scouts of Central Indiana is clear: build courage, confidence, and character in young girls who will make the world a better place.

Camp Runway aimed to do all of that and more using technology.

Nearly 20 campers from grades 6-8 found an opportunity to explore the world of coding, circuitry, and e-textiles during the Camp Runway E-Textiles Summer Camp at the School of Informatics and Computing July 9-13. Campers used lessons learned in classroom sessions to program LilyPad Arduinos that could be sewn into textiles of their own design.

“Giving the girls an opportunity something to engage with something they are already comfortable with with—the fashion element—is important,” said Jamie Hubbard, the program development manager of Girl Scouts of Central Indiana who also coordinates the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics components of events. “It gives the girls a level of confidence before they add more complex skills on the technology side of things.”

I’ve been thinking about a career in fashion, but I really love science, as well ... I loved getting some experience sewing, and my outfit turned out pretty well.

Camp participant Skylar Kellogg, who designed and created a shirt and skirt combo that used LED lights

The LilyPad Arduino is a microcontroller board designed for wearables and e-textiles that can be sewn into fabric via conductive thread. Using an input, such as a temperature or light sensors, items were designed and created that would illuminate LED lights or play music.

“I think all of our campers are great and come in with a lot of enthusiasm,” said Katie Siek, an associate professor of informatics who also served as the leader of the event and built the curriculum. “We’re teaching them material we present to first-year, non-major college students.”

The camp, during which attendees stay in a dormitory on the IU Bloomington campus and gave the campers a taste of college life, concluded with a fashion show that allowed the group to show off their work to their families. The diligence and knowledge brought to the camp by the attendees created extra time unseen in the three-year history of the event.

“I think they all had a great time, and the kids learned a lot,” Hubbard said. “This year, everybody had working projects at least two hours before the Fashion Show. We even got to do a dress rehearsal, which we haven’t been able to do in the past. The girls are coming in with a better understanding of circuits and coding, and this group was a little more realistic about their sewing abilities. They didn’t bite off projects that were more than they could handle.”

Skylar Kellogg, an Indianapolis native, designed and created a shirt and skirt combo that used LED lights.

“I’ve been thinking about a career in fashion, but I really love science, as well,” Kellogg said. “I thought there was no better way to combine science and fashion than this camp. I loved getting some experience sewing, and my outfit turned out pretty well.”

Another camper, Tamsyn Hale, was excited by the blend of tech with sewing. She made a cape with lighted edges.

“I covered it in glue to keep from crossing wires because I didn’t want to get any short circuits,” Hale said. “I learned a lot about coding, and this was really fun.”

Siek said the fact the camp is maturing has helped prepare the campers for what to expect.

“This year they came in with a clearer vision of what they wanted to make because they’ve heard about the camp from other Girl Scouts,” Siek said. “When we were showing them different skills, they were already thinking about how they were going to integrate those pieces into projects they already planned.”

For more information on Camp Runway or to find out how to support the event, visit SoIC’s camp website.