Aidan and Megan Flick could have spent their spring break hanging out at the mall, catching a movie or spending time with friends at a coffee shop. Or maybe they could have whiled away the week by zoning out in front of a computer or TV screen.
But this year, the Flick sisters decided to turn techie. Instead of playing video games, they learned how to make them. Instead of listening to music, they actually composed songs. They also built battling toothbrush robots and took apart a computer tower, just for kicks.
The Flicks were among 21 students from the east metro who gathered at the Ramsey County Library in Maplewood earlier this month for the annual Teen Tech Camp, a two-day tech workshop where students in grades 6-12 could hone their tech skills and have a little fun, too.
Teen Tech Camp, now in its third year, is a collaboration between the library and the Educational Equity Alliance, which is a collaborative program between the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale and Mahtomedi school districts. It is geared toward students who are interested in technology programs and exposes them to possible career ideas they might not learn about in school.
"Everybody is so focused on sports these days," said Scott Galeazzi, a parent from Mahtomedi. "It's nice to see these kinds of programs that get kids educated in technology."
Amy Boese, a teen services librarian and the program director, said the library is a "third space" outside of the home and school where students can feel like they belong to a community.
"We want them to see that the library is not just books," Boese said. "It's a place where they can interact with each other and exchange ideas."
The tech camp's seemingly simple activities are geared to teaching engineering skills, computer programing and website creation that Boese said gives the students the ability to become digital entrepreneurs.
Kieran McCloy, a Mahtomedi High School junior, took on a leadership role at the camp by using his technology experience to help other students at the different work stations.
McCloy said he grew up learning how to fix electronics by watching his dad, who works with commercial audio systems.
"I think it's great that I get to interact with other students who don't have as much experience as I do," Kieran said. "It forces me to slow down and figure out how to explain things in a different way."
Ken Meyer, a 3M senior research engineer and volunteer, taught the students about electrical circuits by creating simple robots with a toothbrush head, a small battery and wiring.
"It's important to get used to how electronics work," Meyer said. "If you can understand this little toothbrush robot, then you can understand simple cellphone fixes that so many people don't know."
Aidan, a Mahtomedi Middle School student and aspiring biochemical engineer, attended the camp last year and enjoyed it so much she talked her sister into going with her this time around. This year, they got to use an iPad for the first time while composing songs with the Garageband app.
"The different activities expose you to more ideas and let you know what else you can do," Aidan said.
The sisters were excited to take apart the computers, although they didn't quite figure out how to put them back together.
"I never imagined myself doing something like that," Megan said. "It was pretty cool."
Callie Sacarelos is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.