DU helps nonprofit group ‘ignite’ a love of learning among inner city youth via digital technology

July 25, 2015


It’s not easy to get kids to like math or science. Tim Klein knows that first hand. He’s an instructor with the nonprofit group Open World Learning.

Klein says he learned to program computers when he was 7-years old.  Now, he’s teaching others how to do the same thing.

Open World Learning and the University of Denver have partnered on a summer camp which is designed to develop leadership and “ignite a love of learning” among inner city youth.

On Friday afternoon, students who had been through the program and came back as volunteers demonstrated the use of two spheros, app-enabled balls that can be controlled with a smart phone or tablet.

The kids in the program, grades 3 through 8, learn how to write code to control the spheros and make them move through a maze.

“It teaches them geometric and mathematic concepts in an environment where they don’t realize they’re learning,” Klein said.

12-year old Brooks Darrow is an enthusiastic attendee.

“I’ve always been interested in making my own computer game,” Darrow said, “so I decided to take a class where I could learn to.”

The summer camp is all about giving kids, like Darrow, options for the future.

“The hope is that they go into something STEM related,” said fellow instructor Dena Pisciotte. “Science, Technology, Engineering or Math, because that’s where the jobs are.”

Pisciotte says camp instructors teach the students robotics, animation, programming, literacy training and team building.

On Friday afternoon, the kids learned how to create spirals on laptops, using Scratch (visual) programming.

“They learn about math. They learn about angles. They learn about geometry. They connect both sides of their brains,” Pisciotte said. “From the abstract to where you actually create them using code and programming.”

“The most fun of the spirals is when you get to make them move,” said 11-year old Kimberly Tepayotl.

Klein says learning to deal with programming codes you’ve never dealt with before can be frustrating at first.

“That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” he said. “But when they finally understand it, it’s awesome to see that light in their eyes.”

Klein says it’s even better when a student comes to show him something he or she made without his help.

“You’re like, ‘that’s what I want you to do, go off and make your own thing,’” he said.

Klein said there’s no better way to learn than to watch the results of your own programming.

He used the spheros as an example.

“A lot of stuff in computer programming you just kind of have to imagine in your head,” he said, “but with a sphero, if you make a mistake, you watch it drive the wrong way (in the maze) and realize, ‘oh wait a minute. I said left. I meant right.’”

When asked if these kids are too young to learn programming, Klein replied, “You’d be surprised at the concepts they can learn.”

Open World Learning has won numerous awards for its curriculum and results.

They include:

·        2012–  Awarded Colorado’s top non-profit organization, by Colorado BIZ Magazine

·        2011 – OWL received the ISTE Seal of Alignment for their elementary and middle school curriculums. 

·        2007 – Excellence in Education Award by Denver Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

·        2007 – One of the 50 Most Innovative Technology Companies in the State of Colorado by CSIA – the network and voice of Colorado’s information technology community.

·        2004 – Colorado Community Technology Program of the Year by the Jared Polis Foundation.

The summer camp at DU is one of five sponsored by OWL.  The others were at Metropolitan State University, Regis University, Denver Jewish Day School and Montessori Academy of Colorado.