Teenagers lead lessons in technology

The Baltimore Sun

Ken Schaffer recently bought a professional-quality camera. The Ellicott City business owner and amateur photographer wanted to learn the computer program Photoshop so he could play around with his pictures. That is why he spent a recent Thursday at Marriotts Ridge High School - where his daughter is a ninth-grader - doctoring a photo of Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Schaffer followed along as two Marriotts Ridge students, juniors Patrick Talcott and Thomas Conchie, guided him through drawing a dotted line around Gates' head, then dragging the head off Gates' body. Five other students practiced with Photoshop techniques. One was working on a buck-toothed Bill Gates. Another gave Gates a mustache and goatee.

They were at the high school for Technology Thursdays. These after-school classes feature high school students teaching courses in Photoshop, game design, Web design and popular programs like MS Office. The classes are free and open to Marriotts Ridge students and community residents like Schaffer.

The teens teaching in the program have an interest and talent for technology, said Reg Hahne, the instructional team leader for Career Technology Education at the high school."As a team we can do some really cool things. They have some abilities. I have the drive and passion to help them showcase their abilities," Hahne said.

"It's a neat opportunity to have our students, our staff and the greater community working together," said Pat Saunderson, Marriotts Ridge principal. "Some afternoons, I'll walk down the halls and see our students giving workshops for middle-schoolers through senior citizens. It's just impressive that our students are able to take on that leadership role."

Hahne transferred from Atholton High when Marriotts Ridge opened in fall of 2005. Several of his Atholton students did not want to lose him, he said

"We came up with a scenario where they would come out every Tuesday and every Thursday" to work with Marriotts Ridge students, Hahne said.

He recommended that his Marriotts Ridge students continue the program. Those interested in teaching must write a curriculum with lesson plans, which Hahne reviews.

"Some of these kids just blow me away, how good they are at teaching. They actually teach their peers, adults, anybody who comes into the room," Hahne said.

Eric Krokos, 16, took the Photoshop class after watching Talcott and Conchie work with the program. He was impressed his peers could take a photo and "change the background, change facial expressions."

Krokos said he plans to use his knowledge to design a Web site.

Senior Rohit Ramesh, 16, teaches Introduction to Game Design. The curriculum is based on his experience programming simple shooter and strategy games that he posts online.

"Each student has their own game that they pick and choose at the beginning of the year. We go over things like, what makes a game a game," Ramesh said. "We've moved into actually coding the program of the game ... how they'll make a player interact with certain objects.

"Teaching's just a fun experience," Ramesh said. He likes helping others make sure "the code they write does what they want it to do."

Although Hahne checked on his student teachers periodically, he spent most of his time programming Java with middle-schoolers. Mount View Middle School is across the street, and several students visit the high school on Technology Thursdays.

"With the middle school kids ... we can evolve into a [grade] six through 12 program," Hahne said. "Things I'm teaching them are things I teach in my regular computer programming classes."

Last week, Hahne's students were learning to use the program Java to alphabetize databases.

Joy Lee, 11, a Mount View seventh-grader, signed up for Hahne's class because "it seemed like a lot of fun." "I like the theory, which is more of the math part of it," said Joy, adding that her favorite subject is math. Eighth-grader Sammy Fishman said he enjoys programming because "I really like problem-solving and it challenges my abilities." When he enters high school next year, Fishman will take Computer Science III.

"I have a head start," he said, because of his classes with Hahne.

Saunderson said that the Technology Thursdays program has helped Marriotts Ridge develop relationships with businesses and people in the community. "This is a fantastic opportunity to show all that is good about Marriotts Ridge kids and what's going on at our school," he said.

Schaffer - a former teacher - said that he plans to return for more Photoshop classes. He said students taking on a teaching role "enhance their mastery by trying to share their knowledge and understanding with others. I've always found that to be a powerful teaching tool."

For more information: www.marriottsridge.net/TechOpp.php.

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