Today's youth summer camp students could be tomorrow's instructors

Information Sciences and Technology (IST) Instructor and Program Co-Coordinator Fred Aebli has been teaching the Digital Animation summer camp for children aged 9 to 12 at Penn State Worthington Scranton for a decade now, and this year he saw the camp come full circle.

When camp started last week, Aebli found himself working with assistants whom he had taught as youngsters several years ago.

Josh Winslow, 16, was in this same summer camp with Aebli five years ago. Now 16, the Elmhurst resident said the interest he had in computer graphics and animation back when he was just 11-years-old has remained with him, and he's most likely going to pursue the field when he goes to college.

For now though, he was enjoying the experience of helping the young students learn more about animation and coding.  "I like teaching kids things that I also enjoy doing," he said. "The most interesting part of the camp was seeing the different ways kids convey ideas."

Mike Melisky is an IST major at Worthington Scranton who attended the camp eight years ago. This is his second time working as a camp assistant.  "Kids at this age are great to work with," he said. "These camps as a whole really get kids involved with all areas of interests."

Doug Mallas, a 2012 campus alumnus and a biology teacher for the Scranton school district, was also working in the digital animation camp. "I think to look at it from a science and math perspective overall-they're very important subjects and becoming more important because so many of the courses now require those skills. Putting the students in this environment lets them use science and math in a different context."

Aebli agreed, explaining that math and problem-solving skills are a very strong element in this particular camp, but it's masked, so the students are actually using their math skills to learn something new in a non-traditional manner -- and having fun while they're doing it.

Digital Animation uses a software program called Scratch, a visual programming language where children can program and share interactive media such as stories, games, and animation. As children create with Scratch, they learn to think creatively, work collaboratively, and reason systematically.

Camp attendees, with help from Aebli and the camp assistants, learned how to use the program, along with storyboarding, to develop a concept and then program their animation. At the end of the week-long camp, the campers host a showing of their animation projects to their classmates and family members.

"The projects they work on get them to solve a problem and they are actually learning computer coding without really realizing it," Aebli said. "It's exciting when you see them actually 'get' the complex ideas."

This year, the camp had its highest attendance ever, with 25 students participating, and was split between male and female participants. When he first started teaching the camp, Aebli said there were no girls; now, every year, more girls are attending.

Friends Jessica Trauger and Isabella Aydin, both 11 and both from Dunmore, were two of the girls in this year's camp. They were working on their animated spot, Talking Paul, which is about "a magical penguin who can do awesome stunts," Isabella explained.

Isabella signed up for the camp after seeing a YouTube video of a person doing animation and thought it was something she would like to try. "I'd never learned how to do animation before," she said, adding that what she'd learned so far was "really fun."

"It looked really neat," Jessica said, when asked why she picked this camp. "I love art, I've been doing it since I was five years old, drawing on paper, and then I started taking art lessons when I was 10. I thought it would be neat to do art on a computer."

After her week at digital animation camp, she said she might want to go into animation or computer art when she gets older. "I love it," she exclaimed.

"I really like computers and came to this camp because you can make your own cartoons," said Donovan Martin, 9, of Scranton. He and classmate Evanston Cannella, 9, of Lake Winola, were putting the finishing touches on their animation project, Attack of the 50-foot Scratch (a cat).  "I can't wait for the presentation tomorrow," he said.

In the photos above, top row, l to r:  Evanston Canella and Donovan Martin work on their project in Fred Aebli's Web Animation summer camp; camp assistant and former camp attendee Josh Winslow helps Ulas Cantimur; and friends Jessica Trauger and Isabella Aydin take a break from their classwork to pose for a quick photo. 

In bottom left photo -- it's all about PSWS and camp alumni! From left, PSWS alumnus Doug Mallas; Fred Aebli, instructor for the web animation camp for the past 10 years, who is also a PSWS alumnus as well as an instructor and program co-coordinator at the campus; former camper and current PSWS IST major Mike Melisky; and former camper Josh Winslow.

In bottom right photo: Aebli guides students through some computer navigation to help them get to the next step in their projects.