Summer programs challenge, entertain students

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published July 30, 2014

 Classroom helper Jayla Hubbart helps Laila Dogan, 11, launch her rocket during a water-bottle rocket program this summer.

Classroom helper Jayla Hubbart helps Laila Dogan, 11, launch her rocket during a water-bottle rocket program this summer.

Photo by Deb Jacques

HARPER WOODS — They’re coding, launching rockets and building virtual worlds, and they haven’t even graduated from high school yet.

This is the summer enrichment program at Harper Woods Schools, where students have had free opportunities to dig into science- and technology-based programs that have sparked their imaginations and fostered the creative process.

“It’s a great opportunity for the kids,” Director of Academic Accountability David Rabbideau said of all the programs.

One of the programs involved students learning to build and launch bottle rockets. Other offerings included Lego Robotics and CSI Investigative Camp.

A number of the programs integrated technology with education, such as a coding course in which the district partnered with Detroit’s Grand Circus, a company that offers training in technology.

“We’ve been investing so much in technology, and we’ve also been investing in summer school in the core instruction in these past years,” Rabbideau said.

The coding program kicked off with a visit to Grand Circus on Woodward in downtown Detroit.

“This is, in my opinion, the crown jewel of our summer programming,” Rabbideau said in an email. “The students will learn computer programming from the experts. They will code websites, apps for mobile devices, and also do some networking, as well as gain exposure to the workplace when they tour Grand Circus and Quicken Loans downtown.”

Grand Circus co-founder Bradley Hoos explained what the students would be doing in the coding program.

“The Hacker Society is a five-week summer program,” he said. “We’re working with the students to teach them how to code. Coding really is a wonderful way to teach kids how to think. Teaching kids how to think is so important.”

He said they want to ensure students are comfortable with technology and can pursue high-tech careers.

“We’ve done work with a number of other schools in the area, as well,” he said.  “We really want to start at a young age when we really want to expose these students and get them excited about technology.

“All this adds up to being able to (write) their own website,” he said.

On the day the students visited Grand Circus in Detroit, Hoos said they also wanted students to feel a part of the things going on in Detroit.

“There’s a lot of different angles to it,” he said.

About 20 students signed up for the coding course.

Harper Woods Schools Instructional Technology Specialists Andy Hopkins and Silas Williams went downtown with the students.

Williams found the program, Hopkins set up the laptop computers and Rabbideau made sure they had bags for the laptops.

“It was a district team effort,” Hopkins said.

“This is equivalent of what they’re getting in a college class … a basic introductory class to coding, so this will be good for these students,” he said.

Williams was excited about the possibilities.

“I’ve always wanted to get these kids into coding,” Williams said. “We’re excited.

He said he hopes they’ll have a long partnership with Grand Circus.

Students also had an opportunity to sign up for the Stop Motion Lab course in which they spent a week using iPads to create a stop motion animation film.

“They’re creating the sets; they’re creating the storylines, plotting it all out,” Rabbideau said. 

Another technology-based program was “Minecraft” for the Classroom. “Minecraft” is a highly popular game among school-age children in which they can mine and build their own cities.

“That seems to be by registered numbers by far the most popular,” Rabbideau said.

During one of the “Minecraft” sessions, a crowded computer lab at the high school was full of eager elementary and middle school students working on their worlds.

“I just like how you can mine for stuff,” student Donald Hall said.  “I just like ‘Minecraft.’”

“I like making stuff,” student Conner DeGryse said.

“I like how it’s a little sandbox,” student Nicolas Tanedo added. “You can do whatever you want. It’s endless.”

Hopkins explained the benefits of hosting a program like “Minecraft” for the Classroom.

“It’s all hands-on,” he said. “You actually build something in creative mode.”

For instance, if a teacher has a lesson on the history of Fort Detroit, that teacher can “actually build Fort Detroit” using this technology.

“It taps into the students who are online learners,” he said. “Not all students learn the same.”

While not part of the summer enrichment courses, Harper Woods students have also been playing some basketball this summer through a program that’s about more than just the skills of the game.

Resident Will Smith, whose children attend the district, is coaching children from 8-15 years old in a program called “Nothing But Achievers” held at the high school.

“We’re adding another opportunity for recreation in our community,” Smith said.

It does teach the fundamentals and provide some fun exercise for students, but Smith explained the other positive outcome he’s hoping to see.

“We’re using basketball as the magnet to draw the kids into the program,” he said.

It’s worked. The program attracted more than 100 children — much more than the initial goal of 60.

They are looking to foster students who take responsibility for their actions.

“We’re also hoping to teach leadership,” Smith said, adding that older students are helping train younger ones, which they’ll get a little stipend for doing.

They have mentors and coaches working with the students.

“We talk about confidence in yourself and surrounding yourself with positive people,” he said.