Northeast Denver students in grades 3 to 8 won’t need to leave the neighborhood to learn advanced computer skills this summer.
OpenWorld Learning (OWL), a nonprofit that teaches advanced computer technology to Denver students, will offer six one-week camps at Swigert-McAuliffe, Smith, Hallett and Park Hill schools.
“Statistics show that technology is the fastest-growing job field, yet many schools don’t offer enough technology-based learning,” said Piep van Heuven, the program’s new chief executive officer and a Park Hill resident. “This program helps kids get good at math, science and literacy.”
The camp will use Denver’s Youth One Book One Denver summer reading selection as the basis for themes in each weeklong camp. Students will use software programs such as Frames, Image Blender, MicroWorlds and more to create projects inspired by the book. Projects during the different camp sessions will include animation, robotics, web design, computer programming and digital photography.
Students can attend multiple weeks and will be able to move forward at their own pace. “Each week has its own curriculum and its own theme, so students can come to any session and complete a project in one week,” said Tara Stroup, director of program operations and outcome. OWL has arranged to use existing school computers for their camps.
Projects include creating book covers, trading cards, animation or movies based on some aspect of the books. “Students read for 30 minutes a day, then reflect, discuss and plan their project,” said Stroup. “They work both as individuals and in teams.”
Students talk about the book’s themes, characters, and real-world problems. “They might create a robot to solve the problem, or tell their own ending for the book,” Stroup said.
The OpenWorld Learning curriculum emphasizes the power of digital technology to develop basic skills and leadership. “It’s all about energizing students to invest in their future—it’s all about learning,” said van Heuven.
OWL, an after-school program that has offered summer camps for the past 10 years, has served more than 5,000 students since its inception in 2000. With four locations offering 30 seats a week for three to six one-week sessions, NE Denver students will have a close-to-home opportunity to increase their knowledge of computer technology.
The OWL curriculum has won awards for teaching digital literacy and for excellence in education. “Studies show that students in the OWL program learn 30 percent more essential technology skills during the average school year,” said Stroup.
Stroup said the program improves reading, math and critical-thinking skills.
“They read books every day, plus they read the instructions to keep moving along in their projects. To create their project they need math. How many steps will the animated character take to get across the screen? To create their shapes, they need geometry. When creating images in space, they learn about size and dimension.”
“The process ignites a love of learning because they get to explore topics that interest them,” said van Heuven, who calls OWL camp a “360-degree experience.”
“OWL is different because of the range of technologies taught within each age group, and the many skill sets that are embedded—not only math and reading, but also character development. And they get outside too, going on a field trip each week and also to the swimming pool.”
Part of the OWL teaching model is peer teaching, in which student leaders become resources for other students. “Students who excel help others, which helps the teacher and empowers the students,” said Stroup.
Peer learning teaches important life skills, said van Heuven: “Peers learn how to interact in small groups. They learn about group dynamics and leadership.
“Kids’ creativity also comes to the forefront with their peers,” she said.
Stroup marveled at the interaction between two elementary-age children in a creative project. “One student taught another to create a computer game in which a frog catches a fly.”
“It’s amazing to see what kids can do when they have access to advanced technology like this,” said van Heuven.
Some students’ projects extend to helping the community. “Students create public service announcements for community projects in their neighborhood, like graffiti removal and trash cleanup,” said Stroup.
van Heuven said OWL’s program will help more students succeed in the future. “Technology will be embedded in just about every job opportunity by the time they hit the job market. Kids with tech skills will do better.”
van Heuven formerly led BikeDenver, Denver’s bicycle advocacy organization, and headed fundraising and marketing efforts for Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado.
Tuition proceeds from OWL summer camps beyond camp costs will be used to support OWL’s after-school programs.
OWL Tech Camps may qualify for Flexible Spending Account reimbursement or a tax credit. IRS information is posted at the end of the OWL article on the Front Porch website, www.frontporchne.com.
For more information about OWL summer camps, visit www.openworldlearning.org.