With Maker Camp, students join a virtual campfire this summer

Summer camp has long been a tradition that calls students to explore the outdoors, engage in fun activities and make new friends. And now there’s a whole new kind of camp: Maker Camp, an online summer camp that is completely free and open to everyone. Maker Camp takes place wherever a student is, by letting that student do fun activities and share them with others through Google+. The idea is to get teens making cool projects, going on epic virtual “field trips” and meeting awesome makers.

This is Maker Camp’s second summer, and the format is similar to last year’s camp: As of this week, each weekday morning, Make Magazine posts a new project or activity on its Google+ page—30 things to make over six weeks. Each weekday afternoon, students can tune in to a live Google+ Hangout On Air to meet expert makers who create amazing things. Like last year, “Field Trip Friday” Hangouts take participants to exciting new places they might not normally get to see, such as NASA’s Ames Research Center.

Maker Camp hopes to foster the DIY and DIT (“do-it-together”) spirit in young people. “Our campers experiment not just with tools and materials but also test their own ideas of what’s possible and how much they are capable of doing,” says Dale Dougherty, founding editor and publisher of MAKE magazine, the host of Maker Camp on Google+, and the co-creator of Maker Faire. “I hope they will see themselves as makers and realize what it means to be productive learners. Learning isn’t something that’s confined to school. It’s something we enjoy doing.”

A couple of improvements Maker Camp is featuring this year: a new, easier-to-use Google+ Community; and a network of affiliate camps, so students can make together in local libraries, youth clubs or makerspaces. Make Magazine worked with Google to supply many of these campsites with maker equipment, such as soldering kits, LEDs, Raspberry Pi boards (mini Linux computers), and Arduino microcontrollers (good for making robots and other gadgets).

Maker Camp might not be surrounded by trees or near a lake, but it has many of the wonderful features of summer camp; it’s kind of like one big virtual campfire. “With Google Plus, we create a context online through technology where you can learn new things to do and share what you are doing along with others,” says Dougherty. “It’s about connecting and building positive relationships.”

He hopes Maker Camp spurs interest in making among teens and in families. “Camp should be a place where you meet new people and are encouraged to do things you might not normally get to do,” Dougherty says. “Camp needs to be fun, engaging and social, and that’s also true of making.”

For more information about Maker Camp, check out Make Magazine’s page on Google Plus.