Kids Dive into Tech Classes Outside School

By Jennifer Mooney Piedra
The Miami Herald

Students with a knack for computer programming and robotics can sharpen their skills at the Institute for Mathematics & Computer Science.

Math, reading, science and history are all part of the curriculum Paula Lebert uses to home school her children.

But the Lauderhill mother of three admits there are some lessons she can’t teach.

Among them: computer programming.

For that, Lebert relies on the Institute for Mathematics & Computer Science, an educational research institute that teaches mathematical concepts and logic to students in elementary and secondary school.

Jana Lebert, 7, loves attending the computer enrichment and virtual robotics classes.

On Wednesday, Jana spent an hour at IMACS’s Plantation campus, where she worked on a computer program that required she maneuver a robot using different mathematical equations.

“When I figure something out, I feel so proud of myself,” she said. “It’s a challenge, and I did it.”

New classes at the institute will begin next week, including one during the day for home schooled children. Other classes are scheduled after regular school hours.

Laura Millward said she plans to enroll her 9-year-old son, Chad, in the computer and robotics class.

The lessons taught by the institute’s instructors – many of whom are mathematicians, computer scientists, engineers, technical editors, graphics designers, and programmers – supplement the math skills Millward teaches at her Boca Raton home.

“It’s an academic challenge,” she said. “And it’s something that I can’t teach.”

During the one-hour class, students work on the computer in a virtual robotics laboratory. The goal is to make robots move and hit specified targets, all of which is done using mathematical calculations.

Workbooks guide students to write computer programs that create specific designs, including a variety of shapes.

The nontraditional teaching method is what keeps students interested, said IMACS director Ted Sweet.

“We’re not doing the same thing they’re doing in school that is boring to them,” he said. We’re not throwing work sheets with 100 math questions in front of them. We’re making it fun.”

If You Want Classes

Computer enrichment and virtual robotics classes begin next week at the Institute for Mathematics & Computer Science. The eight-week classes, held at IMACS campuses throughout Broward, are open to students in grades 3 to 8.

This article originally published August 30, 2007, and has been republished with permission.