January 18, 2019

Kids at code camp get with the programming

At one local camp this summer, about 10 kids sat at computers creating their own worlds within the popular game “Minecraft.” In another room, two 11-year-old boys excitedly showed an instructor the game they created with the same platform used to develop games such as “Temple Run,” “Angry Birds” and “Hearthstone.”

There is no swimming or horseback riding at this camp. For the most part, it’s just a bunch of kids on their computers. But they’re not simply sitting around playing games; these campers learn to code by creating their own video games, websites, apps or mods in “Minecraft” (files that alter the programming code of the game to reflect the changes the user wants). 

This is CodeREV Tech Camp, the brainchild of Evan Boorman. Started less than two years ago, CodeREV Kids (short for code revolution) has seven summer camp locations — including at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and its headquarters in Santa Monica. Geared toward kids ages 6 to 15, summer courses are each one week long and cost about $550 for full-day sessions. A year-round, after-school membership program is also available, with individually designed programs that range from $189 to $285 per month.

“Learning to code helps with logic and advanced problem-solving skills with detail orientation and math,” said Boorman, 34. “We’re teaching kids to find answers for themselves. And we lead them there by asking questions: ‘How do you think you’ll do that? Why do you think that happens when you try that?’ ”

During a 14-year teaching career — whether teaching eighth-grade algebra or tutoring students to prepare for college — Boorman noticed how college graduates with coding skills were more likely to find high-paying jobs that made them happy doing work they enjoyed. His own friends were prime examples of that. So, seven years after he started teaching, he taught himself how to code. He also learned through working on projects with friends building websites. 

What he found, though, is that schools aren’t catching up fast enough with including coding and programming classes in their everyday curriculum. That led him to create CodeREV’s first camp during the winter months of 2014 with the support of some friends and family. What started as a group of about 24 kids learning how to code using “Minecraft” has grown in less than two years to an organization with more than 1,000 enrolled children this summer, approximately 100 members and partnerships with about 30 schools in the Los Angeles area. 

Seated at his desk in his office located at the Santa Monica camp with around 30 campers talking and laughing loudly in the rooms below, Boorman looked every bit the proud parent. 

Boorman himself comes from an accomplished Jewish family. His father, a doctor, is an adjunct professor at UCLA who teaches medicine, and his mother, a computer software consultant, was a math professor at the University of Michigan. His identical twin brother, Erie, is a neuroscientist and postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Oxford studying brain networks involved in the decision-making process.

But more than his parents, Boorman identifies with his maternal grandfather, an Austrian-Hungarian Jew who survived the concentration camps, came to the United States and built a new life for himself. 

“My grandfather came here with nothing, not knowing the language,” Boorman said. “He taught himself English from Westerns and working at a gas station. He worked up to supporting his family and owning a house in Brentwood. He was self-taught. I idolized him. That’s how I think I developed the entrepreneurial spirit.” 

CodeREV — which does offer kids breaks every day for fun off-computer activities — is Boorman’s second business. After graduating from UC Santa Barbara, he started Tailored Tutoring, a company that helps students with college preparatory work. 

Although he himself doesn’t teach, Boorman visits each camp weekly to check in, answering questions from students and making suggestions to instructors on teaching methods, if needed. 

Anson Goode, director of the CodeREV camp located at Temple Emanuel, said he works at the camp because “the future of our engineers and programmers is here and I’m a part of that.” 

“I wish I had had a camp like this when I was growing up,” Goode, 24, said. “My first exposure to coding and programming was when I was in college. When these kids get to college, they’re gonna know so much more [than I did].”

One of those kids is Helaman Forsythe. The 13-year-old gamer is already looking forward to coming back next summer. Forsythe said he wanted to learn how video games work, and his father found the camp for him, which beats staying at home. 

“The camp is like playing video games,” Forsythe said. “But better.”