Objects are rolling on the ground, flying through the air and moving across computer monitors at UW-Eau Claire this week.
Eighty-eight area students entering grades six through 12 have the opportunity to learn through a coding camp how to operate baseball-sized spherical robots, small drones and characters on computer screens as well as learn about HTML, which is a coding language for web documents.
The camp, which runs through Friday at the university, is a partnership between the university’s Blugold Beginnings program and Jamf.
Participating students will rotate to a new session each day. Wednesday will provide time out of the classroom so they can tour the Jamf facility and “other local places of interest,” according to a news release from the university.
Conner Brown and Hunter Nordin, both entering eighth grade at South Middle School, worked together on an iPad app Monday to program their drone to do tricks in a hallway in Hibbard Hall.
“You might want to watch out,” Brown warned other students in the hallway as the drone lifted into the air, flipped, changed directions and landed once again.
The boys agreed the camp had been fun so far, then got back to their drone.
Meanwhile, 15 or so other students in a nearby classroom tried to direct their drones to certain heights, lengths and directions, sometimes bumping the flying robots into walls and the ceiling.
Doug Rhoten, a technical product owner at Jamf who has been involved with the Blugold Beginnings Program for several years, led the students working with drones Monday.
He said he enjoyed witnessing the different ways in which students learn and seeing everyone at different levels of ability and confidence. Over time, he said, students were experimenting and troubleshooting.
“Hopefully (they leave with) just an interest in exploring coding and thinking that it’s not something that’s scary, or for some of these folks in the room, it’s not just something for the boys,” Rhoten said.
In the parking lot behind Hibbard, another group of students worked to order ball-shaped robots down the lines of tape stuck to the concrete. By changing variables within an iPad app, students got their robots to stop, back up and head along different angles. After some time working with the robots outside, the group entered a shipping container-turned-classroom known as an Innovation Hub.
At a whiteboard in the center of the solar-powered classroom was Dave Saltmarsh, global education liaison with Jamf, who was suggesting to students they be more calculating about their next steps.
Saltmarsh said for this camp, he tries to focus on a student-centered approach. This means it’s about allowing students to think critically, problem-solve, come up with answers and work collaboratively.
“The kids learn by doing, they learn by failure. The instructors give very few cues. In fact, I don’t know even where some of them are going to end up, and that’s more than just the tech, it’s the purposeful teaching behind it,” Saltmarsh said.
Rhoten and Saltmarsh both acknowledged this camp as a safe place for students to fail, even telling participants it’s OK to struggle and have to try again.
Joe Rupslauskas was one of the volunteers working with campers Monday. Formerly a social studies teacher at Chippewa Falls High School, he now works at Applied Data Consultants in Eau Claire and is enrolled in a two-year software development program at Chippewa Valley Technical College. He said he thought he might have some knowledge to impart to campers.
Several teachers from the state are at the coding camp this week, and Rupslauskas said he hopes to see them take new educational approaches.
“It’d be really cool to see this stuff go back and work its way into the classroom because this is more fun than a science test or a math test,” Rupslauskas said. “It’s cooler, and they’re going to remember it longer.”
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