"Get 'em while they're young" should be the motto of Red Hat High (RHH), a summer
camp program, funded by Red Hat, to introduce junior high school students
to free software tools. Now in its second year, RHH has a curriculum
designed to get students using creative tools to produce tangible works
during the week-long camp. In addition to teaching 50 eighth and ninth
grade students about free software, the project seeks to expand its reach,
not by increasing its enrollment, but by exporting the concept to other
The students all came from schools in the area around Red Hat's North Carolina
headquarters, and each had to be nominated by one of their teachers. RHH was
looking for participants "that show great creative potential and an
interest in technology, but perhaps lack the resources to pursue it outside
of school." In addition to the technology focus, the camp also provided
other social events in the evenings, all free of charge to the
campers. The camp was held at North Carolina State University, allowing
the students to experience dormitory life a few years early.
The students could choose amongst five different tracks, each focused on a
The curriculum for each track had a specific goal, "create a Google Gadget"
or "create ten seconds of animation" for example. During the program,
the students would learn the tool from scratch, then, singly or
collaboratively, use it to create something.
Two student projects are highlighted in a Red Hat Magazine article
about RHH 2007. One is three minute audio clip, the other a fifteen
second animation - both are quite impressive for 8th and 9th grade
students. The organizers failed to get permission from all of the students
to share their work, so these are the only examples available - something
they hope to fix for next year's camp. By all
accounts, RHH was a success, with the students and their parents as well
as the organizers. But, just as important, the course content for each of the
tracks will be made available to other
projects with similar goals.
Camp field trips included the Red Hat campus to "experience life in a
technology company" as well as a visit to a college level 3D animation
class, where the "free beer" part of free software really hit home.
Project coordinator Greg DeKoenigsberg
describes the scene:
When the kids reached the 3D Animation classroom, they were very impressed
by Maya — until one of them asked for a free copy. 'A full license
of Maya costs $7000,' the instructor said, which elicited an outraged
reaction from the kids. 'But Blender is free!' they cried in unison.
Then the teacher started to show them some of the things Maya could do, and
he was clearly surprised at the kids' clueful responses. 'These are
vertices,' he'd say, and then they'd say 'yeah, we've done that.' 'Okay,
this is texturing.' 'Yeah, we've done that too.'
In many ways, RHH is a testbed for free software outreach to young people.
In the two years of the program, the organizers have learned what works,
now they are ready to export that knowledge to others. The first step is
to focus on tutorials for the various tools, by creating new versions
specifically packaged into curricula that teachers can immediately use.
DeKoenigsberg, puts it this way:
A strong community of teachers and free software enthusiasts should be able
to develop, validate, and license simple lesson plans, with the explicit
goal of teaching kids to do stuff that is both cool and immediately
useful. It's my hope that Red Hat High can serve as a model for that
Once the curricula exist, training teachers to use it in their classrooms
is the next step. The main barrier is teachers' time, but the way around that is
through the professional development programs that many school districts
have. Because professional development courses are often tied to their
earnings, formal training sessions that fulfill those requirements, will be
quite attractive to teachers that have an interest in free software, but
lack the time. In many districts, funding is available for
these kinds of training programs as well.
The project is a worthy one, even if it never escapes beyond the
Raleigh-Durham area. Even 50 students at a time, getting the word out
about free software is a good thing. If the project's larger goals can be
realized – spreading this knowledge far and wide – it can make
a huge difference.
Getting young folks hooked on expensive proprietary
software may be good for the bottom line at Adobe or Microsoft, but it is
not so good for the wallets of schools and parents. Free software is able
to replace an awful lot of proprietary packages, with no licensing hassles,
so that students can run it anywhere they can find an open computer. That
message has not, yet, been widely heard, but RHH hopes to change that.
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