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Techie camp

St. Francis program among summer educational opportunities for kids

June 20, 2008
By Tonee Byrnes, For the Mirror
LORETTO — For most kids, summer means a break from school and a time to relax.

However, for a group of 181 elementary school students from the Loretto area, summer is presenting an opportunity to take extra classes and learn something new.

At St. Francis University’s Summer 2008 Kids’ College, 11 elementary students are learning about the basics of computer science and robots at this week’s Robotic Camp.

‘‘We hope that [the kids] walk away not with just an understanding, but really a love for technology,’’ said Kent Tonkin, assistant director for the information technology team of St. Francis’ Center of Excellence for Remote and Medically Under-Served Areas.

Tonkin said the IT team of CERMUSA put together the camp last summer as a way to increase technology awareness among children.

Jonathan Miller helped organize the camp last year. This year, he is helping to teach at the weeklong camps this week and next.

Miller said he hopes the children gain an appreciation for the technology ‘‘to see that there’s many people working toward a common goal’’ for the purposes of health, entertainment and the military.

The week started with the participants learning the basics about robots using Legos and a companion computer program, which Miller said has easy-to-understand instructions and visuals.

The students then built a robot and programmed it to do various tasks such as rolling forward, turning and playing music.

After watching a video about robots earlier in the week, 10-year-old Garrett Link of Loretto became enthused about engineering robots.

‘‘I want to build a robot that can help people,’’ said Garrett. ‘‘I love robots.’’

He said he hopes one day to build robots that can help people, including cancer patients and the military.

‘‘It will be super-advanced,’’ he said, as he gestured with his hands about his future robot.

On Wednesday and Thursday the children participated in a challenge project in which they chose a task for the robot to complete, such as climbing stairs, said Miller.

Today, the students will get to show off what they learned to their parents.

Other sessions in Kids’ College included music, fitness, science, writing and dance.

Penn State Altoona, Mount Aloysius College in Cresson and Juniata College in Huntingdon also offer summer learning camps for children.

Article Photos

Gavin Link (left), 8, of Gallitzin and Lucas LeComte, 9, of Munster use a laptop computer to program their Lego Mindstorm robot Tuesday at St. Francis University in Loretto. (Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski)

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