What’s better than sitting on the couch playing Minecraft all summer? How about going behind the scenes at Mojang, the game’s developer, in Sweden and getting an inside look at how Minecraft is put together?

That’s just one of the cool activities on tap for kids participating in this year’s Maker Camp, a free, six-week summer camp hosted by Google and MAKE Magazine. It’s offered online and at participating sites around the world.

Held July 7 to August 15, Maker Camp joins kids ages 13 to 18 with scientists, makers, artists, and techies via virtual field trips and hands-on projects. Daily Google+ hangouts, held at 11 a.m. (PST), offer participants incredible learning opportunities. Kids can explore film sound effects with a designer from Skywalker Sound, a division of Lucasfilm, Ltd. They can also visit a robotic zoo of the future with robotics engineers and learn claymation from folks at Aardman Animations (famous for producing the “Wallace & Gromit” series).

Field trips take students behind the scenes at places such as the LEGO headquarters and IDEA House in Denmark, Disneyland’s Fantasmic! pyrotechnics show, and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Imagine the cost of sending your kid to only one of those places this summer.

Each hangout is paired with two daily activities: one basic and one more advanced. For example, after learning about space from Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin and watching the James Webb Space Telescope assembled live, students may make their own milk jug rocket launcher or soda bottle rocket LED fireworks—hands-on projects requiring mostly basic household tools. The full 2014 schedule is available online.

With a similar aim of getting kids to explore and engage in projects out of the classroom, Pittsburgh’s City of Learning invites local students to take advantage of citywide learning opportunities and earn digital badges along the way.

14031032783_34cba4b593_z

Photo/ Ben Filio

Incoming freshman to Holy Family Academy in Emsworth built their own desks this summer. As part of a three-week summer orientation camp, students spent a day at the Greater Pennsylvania Regional Council of Carpenters Training Center where they learned the basics of carpentry.

Marques Duncan, age 13, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that before he took part in the program, he was planning to go into the military after graduation. Now he may look for a carpentry apprenticeship instead. “I’m so glad I did it,” he told the Post-Gazette. “I’m really proud of myself. Every time I see it, I can think of what I learned here and keep using it.”

The project was funded in part by the Hive Fund for Connected Learning at the Sprout Fund, with additional expenses covered by private donors. Connected Learning is a theory of learning that links teens’ interests, peers, and academics to spur deeper learning in and out of class, because in today’s online world, learning never stops.

The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh is in on the action with Camp MAKESHOP. Held August 18 to 22, the camp gives students ages 10 to 12 a place to tinker and get their hands dirty using electronics, playing with circuitry, woodworking, and sewing.

Kids ages 4 to 14 can geek out about science at the Carnegie Science Center. Campers experiment with roller coasters, design robots, build bridges, learn about science careers, and tackle other enriching activities at these week-long camps.

Or kids can head over to TechShop, a community workshop and studio for the Pittsburgh maker community. The space, larger than 16,000 square feet, includes everything aspiring makers need, from design software to high-tech tools and equipment.

We’ll be celebrating making and web literacy at a Maker Party this Saturday Aug. 1 with activities and learning stations from the Digital Corps, Pittsburgh City of Learning, and Hive Pittsburgh. When it comes to preparing kids for 21st-century challenges, these activities may even rival spending the summer at the pool.