Four middle school age boys are huddled around a converted ping pong table, staring intently at its surface while family, judges, and technology enthusiasts crowd around. On the table, two Lego-robots glide around, performing tasks programed into their software. The boys’ eyes light up each time their robot pushes or pulls the correct item into place. The announcer begins his 10-second countdown. Suddenly, the timer buzzes and the boys explode into high fives while the crowd talks excitedly about the ingenuity of the young robotic scientists. This is a place where a love of learning still prevails. This is the Open World Learning Technology Fair.
Open World Learning, better known as OWL, is a non-profit organization based out of Denver which currently reaches three school districts, Denver Public Schools, Aurora Schools, and Jefferson County Schools. Since 2000, they have been working to ignite a love of learning in elementary and middle students and give kids access to technology and the skills they need to operate it. So far, these goals have reached over 5,000 students! These students can choose from a variety of creative categories to show their technology skills in, including web design, stop motion animation, graphic design, and robotics. And every child hopes to showcase their hard work at the OWL Technology Fair.
To many of its participants, OWL is just an extremely cool after-school activity. But if you really look at all the benefits it provides kids with, you will see that its effect is almost magical. Not only did almost every child involved in OWL’s appreciation and knowledge of technology go up, “Even their school attendance was better!” says Sharley Cotter, an OWL Site Coordinator in Aurora Schools. But the most amazing thing is how OWL rekindles a hunger for knowledge in kids whose school experiences have been dominated by worksheets and tests. OWL students attitudes toward class became astronomically better after children joined the program. Even kids who did well in school, but not so well in social respects were aided by OWL. The intense bonding over a common interest makes the technology extracurricular a sure-fire way to make friends. As for OWL’s goals for the future? Keep expanding and reach more kids!
OWL student Dakota Connolly put it simply: “I’m definitely doing it [OWL] next year!”