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NSA Historian Paul Marynowski talks about the Enigma decoding machine used by the Germans in WWII to middle school students. The Innovation Center of the St. Vrain Valley Schools held one of the SuperSTEM classes on Tuesday. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
NSA Historian Paul Marynowski talks about the Enigma decoding machine used by the Germans in WWII to middle school students. The Innovation Center of the St. Vrain Valley Schools held one of the SuperSTEM classes on Tuesday. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

About 50 middle and high school students are spending the week in STEM camps at the St. Vrain Valley School District’s Innovation Center, learning about robotics, cybersecurity and programming.

To offer the classes, St. Vrain Valley teamed up with the University of Colorado Boulder and the Northrop Grumman Corporation. The Northrop Grumman Foundation sponsors the CyberPatriot youth education program, which features an annual cybersecurity competition.

Middle school student Luke Greiner photographs an Enigma machine. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

The district offers cybersecurity classes during the school year through the Innovation Center, as well as Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH, a program focused on cybersecurity at Longmont’s Silver Creek High School.

The weeklong summer program is in its fourth year. Last summer, all the camps were held virtually. This year, three of the four camps are in person, while a fourth is online. They’re taught by St. Vrain Valley and CU Boulder teachers, with help from St. Vrain high school students employed by the Innovation Center.

Axel Reitzig, the Innovation Center’s coordinator of innovation, said the overall goal is to increase students’ technology literacy.

“It’s getting under the hood of the technology that’s part of the fabric of our lives,” he said. “They can be the designers and problem solvers.”

The camps also include daily speakers, a virtual tour of CU Boulder and presentations for parents on Friday.

“We want to show them how what they’re doing in their camps applies to industry,” Reitzig said.

Tuesday, guest speakers from the National Security Agency talked to the students about cybersecurity and reverse engineering software, as well as showing the students a working German Enigma Cipher Machine. The machine was used in World War II, with intelligence gained from Allied analysts solving Enigma messages helping shorten the war by as much as two years.

NSA Historian Paul Marynowski talks about the Enigma decoding machine used by the Germans in WWII. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

NSA Historian Paul Marynowski emphasized the importance of diversity in technology fields, saying it took people from a variety of countries and backgrounds to break Enigma’s codes.

“Enigma was so important to the war effort,” he said. “We know, from watching the Enigma process, that diversity helps us win. Bringing new experiences helps solve tougher problems better and faster.”

In the “Internet of Things” class, students used a Micro:Bit, or mini computer, to make a smart greenhouse as they learned about networks of connected devices. The mini greenhouses, planted with sprouting pea seeds, include tiny solar panels, temperature gauges and watering pumps.

Class teacher Mai Vu, who works at Altona Middle School during the school year, said she wants students to make the connection to growing food in space as they build their greenhouses.

“Hopefully, this will help spark their interest,” she said.

In the cybersecurity fundamentals class, students are learning the basics of security before testing their skills in the CyberPatriot competition. The virtual class, taught by faculty and students from CU Boulder’s Applied Mathematics and Computer Science departments, is covering artificial intelligence, machine learning and data science.

The fourth class introduces students to social robots, using the Misty II model. Tuesday, they learned some of the ways social robots can help people, including learning a new language or improving communication skills, before using block coding to start programming the robots to talk and move.

Innovation Center teacher Jacob Roberts also talked about using a human centered design process.

“If you don’t start with the person, you won’t truly understand the root of the problem we’re trying to solve,” he said. “You need to come up with a solution for the person’s needs.”

The end goal is for the students to create a fun program for the robot that would help a teacher, such as a dance students could learn as a brain break.

Daniel Goodman, who will be a seventh grader at Longmont’s Soaring Heights PK-8, said he’s loved the cybersecurity class.

“I can spend time with people like me, who know the ins and outs of computers, and talk to them about it,” he said.

Added classmate Grace Gruber, who will be a sixth grader at Boulder’s Manhattan Middle School, “It’s really interesting. I’m learning lots about cybersecurity and coding.”

Alondra Cabrera, who will be an eighth grader at Longmont’s Timberline PK-8, said she didn’t have much experience with robots before taking the social robots class and has learned a lot.

“It’s cool,” she said. “At least I’m doing something, and I’m not just at home.”

Erie sisters Taylor Edwards, an incoming sophomore, and Kiley Edwards, an incoming eighth grader, also said they signed up for the robot class because they wanted something to do during the summer. They were considering trying to build their own robot, but decided a class would be easier.

“We’re really interested in robots,” Taylor Edwards said.

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