Kids expand computer animation skills at summer camp

Most of us have heard of the saying, “it’s just a stretch of the imagination,” but in most cases, the opportunity to use our imagination is quite limited.

For 21 students, however, stretching their imaginations was what they were required to do. Kids from 8 to 12 years of age in the Scranton area recently participated in the annual "Nittany Cub Camp -- Creating Animations" summer camp, held at the Penn State Worthington Scranton campus.

During the weeklong camp, the kids learned to use Scratch, a computer animation program that allows users to expand their creativity and imagination by developing animated stories and games. This is the fourth year that the camp has used Scratch.

Fred Aebli, Nittany Cub Camp instructor and instructor in the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) at Penn State Worthington Scranton, said that Scratch teaches kids technological concepts in a fun way.

“Scratch actually emphasizes concepts in software development and the children in the camp don’t even realize it,” said Aebli. “All they know is that they are having fun while working together in teams.”

The week started off with the students making a “flip book” animation in order to understand the concept of frame-based animation. By mid-week, they came up with a story and used the concept of “storyboarding” to tell their stories in an animated manner.

The week ended with an animation screen presentation, where the campers’ works were showcased.

“It is always rewarding to see a team get up in front of the audience, introduce themselves and see their work come to life on the ‘big screen’… even if it isn’t quite how they imagined it would be,” said Aebli.

Although Scratch involves some directing and teaching, Aebli said that the kids learn it quite quickly.

“The kids actually get to teach themselves once I take them through the basics,” he said. “They come up with some funny stories.”

Scratch was developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT. Available in 50 languages, Scratch is described by its developers as a “new programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music and art.” Users also are able to share their creations on the Web, download other creations and comment on the works.

For more information and to see creations from the camp, visit: http://scratch.mit.edu/.

Last Updated July 27, 2009