Like many other summer campers, the troop of sixth graders headed up to Catoctin Mountain State Park in Maryland Monday had packed hiking shoes, a flashlight, extra socks and other paraphernalia necessary for a week in the woods.
They will, of course, wade through freshwater streams and hike dusty trails, observing deer, turkeys and other wildlife.
But unlike most other campers, the sixth graders selected from 98 District public schools to attend this special camp also will get a chance for "hands on" computer experience. They are attending the new "Nature Computer" program in Thurmont, Md., run by the District school system's Instructional Services Center and the National Park Service.
"What we are trying to do is give students who are usually in an urban area a chance to live in a different environment," said Mary B. Harbeck, supervising director of science for District elementary schools. "At the same time they are learning to become computer literate and accepting computers as a daily part of life.
The brainchild of Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie, the camp is supported by federal funds and is intended to give students a chance to learn to write computer programs.
"We chose these computer skills because they are simple enough to be taught in a short period of time, and they are the kind of success activity that the students can relate to," camp coordinator Elaine Banks-Barton said.
About 80 or 90 children attend the free camp each week. Ten positions in each one-week group of the scheduled six-week program are reserved for students with learning disabilities.
In addition, the campers spend three hours a day on nature trails. On one trail, to learn about stream and water ecology, they study a creek, turning over rocks to collect and classify small fish and other aquatic organisms and measuring water temperature and velocity.
On the woodland ecology trail, campers identify trees and the uses of different types of wood, as well as unfamiliar plants and animal life.
The geology trail teaches them how to identify and classify different rocks and rock formations and their uses. They also learn about the charcoal business that once thrived among the early settlers of the area.
Students are given a preliminary test to determine their computer and academic skills. Their group names reflect the camp's dual purpose: The Micro Chips, the Trailblazers, the Backpackers and the Loopers.
Each group goes together to activities, including the daily three hours of computer trainingin the "General Store," an old market converted into a classroom and equipped with 25 computer terminals borrowed from District schools.
The students get nine hours of computer training. They also learn computer history and the basic operation of a computer. They are soon writing a simple computer program to create a computer-generated geometric figure.
"They are not just playing prearranged games," Harbeck said. "They are actually writing thier own programs. The best part about it is we can introduce them to computer education without cutting into their regular class time."
"So far the program has been very successful, and the kids think it is just marvelous. They are just bubbling to come back to us again. We hope the progam can be expanded in the spring or fall," Harbeck said.
"I only wish that we could keep them longer."