July 25, 2008

Incoming fourth, fifth and sixth grade students at North Hancock Elementary School took a break from summer vacation to learn about chemicals, computers and compassing during Digi Camp. The weeklong camp was a partnership between the school's family resource center, Hancock County 4-H, 21st Century Learning Center and the county's office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.

In recent years, beefed-up efforts across the country have aimed to increase awareness and interest in math, science, technology and engineering fields. The United States trails other countries in the number of undergraduate degrees awarded in these areas. Torey Earle, 4-H agent-at-large for science, engineering and technology, said in 2006, about 5 percent of all U.S. college graduates received a degree in one of these fields, whereas in China and Japan, about 50 percent were awarded a degree in those subjects.

These numbers are alarming, considering the important role technology plays in Americans' everyday lives.

"There will be no job that any of our children get that will not require the use of some type of technology. So we want to get them excited and feeling confident in using technology in lots of different formats," said Martha Warren, North Hancock Elementary principal.

 Kyle Sigler, Devin Poole and James Garrett learn how to use GPS technology.The camp explored different opportunities available through math, science, engineering and technology throughout the week. Featured topics included Web site design, Internet safety, biotechnology, rocketry, robotics, GPS technology, compassing, digital photography and digital music composition.

"It's surprising how much the kids already know about technology," said Lisa Hagman, Hancock County 4H Youth development agent.

The camp was the first program to utilize the county's 21st Century Learning Center Grant. Students paid a minimal fee and were provided with a T-shirt, flash drive and lunch for the entire week.

Digi Camp gave students the opportunity to learn about the science and mathematics-based afterschool program that will be available during the school year. The three-year, $150,000 grant funds that program, as well.

While this was the county's first program offered through the grant, students showed great interest in the subject matter. At the beginning of the week, 23 students were enrolled. The numbers increased daily, and by the end of the week, the head count was 31.

"I think there are more people seeing you don't have to be scared of technology, Earle said."There are some simple ways you can use it and some simple techniques you can use to implement in just about anything you do."