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Tales around Net campfire

It was a modern twist on summer day camp. By the time their children got home, parents could view photos and read descriptions of the day's activities online. At Wilde Lake Middle School, the people documenting camp life for the Internet were the campers themselves.

This summer, the 12- to 15-year-olds who participated in the Triple T Productions Web design class published a daily online newspaper. The Summer Camp Gazette covered Aqua Havens, a marine and aquatic studies course for 8- to 12-year- olds, as well as their own progress in learning Web design. Both camps were offered through the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks and ended Aug. 1.

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Bob Keddell, a science teacher at Wilde Lake Middle, runs Triple T Productions and Aqua Havens during the school year and in the summer. His focus is on teaching children real-life skills and giving responsibility to those who seek it.

Keddell said that for schoolchildren who were ready to take on responsibility and train their peers, "figuring out a real meaningful role" was important.

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One was 14-year-old Alima Thomas, who will attend Wilde Lake High School this fall and was a site coordinator.

Alima was involved with Triple T Productions when it was a small pilot program last year. She was one of three student helpers who worked with campers during a couple of two-week sessions this summer. "Now we're in charge of overseeing the other kids who attend the camps every day," said Alima.

The children used software provided by a program partner, Tool Factory Inc. The educational software company provides online support and technical adviser Brian Wessner.

Wessner, whose children have attended Wilde Lake Middle, said that working with middle-schoolers was a learning experience for him. "They're really good at pushing the capability of the software," he said. "They force you to know more about the software."

Keddell agreed. "What we learned this year is that some kids walk in the door so versed [in computer technology] and so ready to get going," he said. He plans to make adaptations in the future to accommodate those students, as well as those who are just starting to learn how to use a computer.

Triple T Productions and Aqua Havens were part of Wilde Lake Middle's HOME (Habits of Mind Exchange) program, which is offered after school. From September through June, Triple T staff members maintain the school's Web site and create Web pages for community businesses, such as Aqua Havens partner Artificial Reefs Inc.

About 100 middle-schoolers are involved in the after-school program. This summer, an additional 150 children from around Howard County participated in Aqua Havens and Triple T Productions.

The Web designers used MultiMedia Lab V, a Tool Factory software. "MultiMedia Lab V is a very easy program to use, so we encourage the campers to build different animations and sprites to make their pages look more professional," Alima said. She pointed out that the children needed to make their pages readable and informative.

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"Every day they learn a little bit more," she said. Campers fixed errors on the Web site and made it more creative and colorful. In addition to taking photos, they wrote text about the day's activities. Over the two-week session, they learned how to include detailed information on their Web sites.

"We try to push them more every day to learn something new to fulfill their duties," Alima said, for making an attractive and informative Web site.

"Every kid has a different talent," Keddell said.

Alex Reed, 14, liked creating animation.

"I just like computers so I learn fast with computer stuff," said Alex, who will be a ninth-grader at River Hill High. With animation, "there are so many possibilities and it could be so useful later because I want to go into computers" as an animator or programmer, he said.

"It's really cool how they have the Web site because you can go home and actually see what you've been doing" each day at the camp," Alex added.

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Parents also enjoyed that aspect of the camps. "The moms and dads of the campers get very upset if the Web site's not updated every day," Wessner said. "The parents felt it was part of their kids' camp experience being on the Internet."

To view the Triple T Productions site, visit www.fieldto classroom.com.


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