OWATONNA — Federated Insurance and McKinley Elementary School have teamed up to teach fifth-graders about computer programing and animation.

The program, titled “Scratch Animation and Programming Pilot,” started on April 17 and ran for three consecutive Wednesdays, ending on May 1. Seventeen McKinley fifth-graders signed up for the program, which runs after school.

“I really like technology stuff, so I felt this was a good program for me,” said fifth-grader Camryn Miller.

“I like computers and my dad works in computers, so I signed up,” added Logan Steckelberg.

Zack Kruger, the Owatonna school district’s technology integrationist, and Federated I.S. Resource Manager Miranda Dibble oversaw the pilot program with help from five additional members of the Federated I.S. Department and Tom Meagher, the district’s STEM coordinator. Erica Coan, Eric Proehl, Kevin Rasmussen, Jason Baumgartner and Stacey Bauer were the other Federated employees to volunteer their time and knowledge.

Fifth-grader Anna Vetsch said her mother works at Federated Insurance and her mother sold her on joining the after-school program.

Alex Vereide said the hardest part of the three-week course was finding the right controls and learning what each button does.

In a press release about the program, coordinators wrote that, “In the 21st Century, we are very dependent on technology. Learning to code empowers youth with technical and analytical skills that can be applied in their schoolwork, in addition to laying a foundation for their future careers.”

Each McKinley fifth-grader was offered a spot in the afternoon class. Seventeen fifth-graders learned the basics of programming within Scratch during the first session.

Scratch is an online program developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab, which allows kids of all ages to create digital characters, backgrounds, sound effects, and story lines in an easy to use drag-and-drop format. This intuitive program encourages students to create, collaborate, and think critically while learning programming skills. The students are engaged in reading, math, and logic as they are creating their software applications and games.

Kruger said the students caught on right away and were very tech savvy, which allowed the course to move a quick pace. During the second week, students created games using what they learned from session one. Each student will be creating a final project to be published online to be shared with others.

Dibble said the pilot program was a very successful partnership between Federated Insurance and the Owatonna Public Schools. The hope is that the partnership will continue and be replicated at other schools in the Owatonna school district.

Reach reporter Derek Sullivan at 444-2372, or follow him on Twitter @OPPSullivan

Reach reporter Derek Sullivan at 444-2372, or follow him on Twitter @OPPSullivan

People's Press education/politics/arts reporter