Technology Summer Camp

DigitalCurrents Project

The first three weeks of June are always a favorite time for me. That's when the ATLAS Institute at CU Boulder teams up with the Denver Public School system's Computer Magnet Program to host the DigitalCUrrents summer technology camp. Nine boys and girls from Thomas Jefferson and Denver North High Schools attended the camp, where they worked together to create three-dimensional, animated movie trailers for a larger 3D animated film. Students learned about 3D design, animation, storytelling and sound from ATLAS and Computer Magnet Program instructors.

The second and third weeks of the camp moved to Thomas Jefferson high school, where the high-school students taught their new skills to about 20 middle-school girls and boys. The high-school students became not only teachers for the middle school students, they also became their mentors and friends. The films created by both student groups will be displayed in the new ATLAS building at CU-Boulder, which is under construction and scheduled to open in fall 2006.

I love being around the students, of course, and seeing what their imaginations bring forth. This still, above, is from one group's animation project, called "Under Da Sea." Everybody had a wonderful time with the animation software; at first we were concerned about the technical difficulty of the project, but both the high-school students and the middle-school students picked it up quickly and designed their film clips in less than a week. Some created original music for their film scores! They even critiqued each other's work using studio design practices.

Lecia Barker, NCWIT Senior Research Scientist, also is involved with DigitalCUrrents; she and her team are evaluating many aspects of it. Among the questions they're asking are, should we run the camp with only girls? Or should it be both boys and girls? Which technology projects are the most compelling? How are the high-school students interacting with the middle school students? Does this type of camp format work to attract middle school students to computing?

Her evaluation work is important not only to the ongoing success of DigitalCUrrents, but also to a larger national audience. It's critical that we research and distribute effective practices for these types of K-12 informal educational opportunities, across the country. Only then can we stop reinventing summer camps and start looking forward to summer with the knowledge that kids not only are learning effectively, they're having fun doing it.