UW-Rock College for Kids program promotes hands-on learning

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Nick Crow
July 16, 2014

JANESVILLE — Each year, UW-Rock County promotes hands-on learning and critical thinking for area youth during its week-long College for Kids program.

In Megan Lueck's shoebox science course Wednesday, elementary students learned about photosynthesis by studying celery stalks soaked in red colored water.

They made chemical reactions by mixing vinegar, baking soda and laundry detergent.

"Mine actually was pretty good," said 6-year-old Nicholas Steponkus, talking about how his mixture reacted.

"I think it exploded because of a chemical reaction," said 9-year-old Kaitlyn Krug. "It was pretty cool."

Lueck has been involved in College for Kids for six years. Initially, she was an instructional aide, but is now leading a class herself for the first time. As a recent UW-Whitewater graduate, she said she enjoys working with kids, especially at the elementary level.

"I like to see their reactions to the experiments," Lueck said. "It's fun. I'm going to be a teacher myself, so it is something I really like to do."

Since the 1960s, College for Kids has offered morning sessions for grades 2 through 4, and morning, afternoon or all-day courses for grades 5 through 8, said Stacy Randall, director of continuing education at UW-Rock.

"I've been doing this for 10 years, now," Randall said. "We get kids from all over Rock County and the surrounding areas. It's enrichment for the students. We work at a quick pace and expose them to the campus. It builds their confidence and lets them do some things that are different than they do at school."

Nearly 135 kids are taking part in the program this year, Randall said.

"My staff are very creative at coming up with hands-on projects for the kids," Randall said. "The courses are designed to make them do some critical thinking. We want them to not just think 'yes' or 'no' but why."

Kids are offered classes such as aquatic field biology, fencing, fun with Photoshop and show choir.

The classes cost $100 for the week for half-day sessions and $170 for fifth- through eighth-graders wanting to take classes the whole day. The cost includes a daily snack, supplies and instruction, Randall said.

"We have a record number of students this year," Randall said. "Many of the classes fill up right away. There are 13 instructors and we have many families who have kids that have grown up here. It's nice to see them mature. We can see the transition as they get comfortable with the campus."

Richard Snyder teaches a beginners stained glass class to fifth- through eighth-graders. He said what impresses him the most about the students is their desire to learn in a limited time.

"They only have five days to work, and they always finish their projects," Snyder said. "It's a great summer program. I wish I would have had this opportunity when I was a kid. I think it's a really great thing to get the kids interested at an early age."

John Zanzinger, 10, was making a stained glass mallard during class Wednesday. He explained that after taping his glass to colored pieces, he would grind them to shape before soldering them together.

"I'm learning something doing this," John said. "It's fun here. I'm glad I came."

"To pick up a new skill and finish a project in five days is incredible," Snyder said. "This is a good program for learning, and the kids are totally into it. At first, they are a little apprehensive, but by break time they don't even want to go to break. It's very interesting to see what they are able to create."

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