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updated: 4/25/2014 7:54 AM

Deerfield's Computer Explorers offer games for learning

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  • Students at the Glenview Park District learn some lessons using Minecraft.

    Students at the Glenview Park District learn some lessons using Minecraft.

  • Students at the Glenview Park District learn some lessons using Minecraft.

    Students at the Glenview Park District learn some lessons using Minecraft.


Some parents may argue that spending too much time on computer games is bad for kids.

Lori Gross, director of Computer Explorers of Northeastern Chicagoland in Deerfield, disagrees. She has owned and operated the educational franchise since 2009 and since then has seen about 5,000 young people learn lessons about life, discipline, planning, languages and even physics.

Computer Explorers is offering programs at suburban schools and park districts and is using the Minecraft computer game, among other programs, to teach kids 21st century skills. About 38 park districts and schools, including those in Glenview, Gurnee, Northbrook, Wilmette and Deerfield, offer Computer Explorers.

Last year, Computer Explorers saw 406 students attend its programs in the winter-to-spring term. This year, there were 616 students. The maximum number of children for most classes is around 12 students.

"What parents want is to help their kids become producers of technology rather than simply consumers of technology," Gross said. "Minecraft is that sort of program: to the kids, it's a 'game.' But parents and educators recognize that it is actually a teaching tool for higher order learning: strategic planning, logic and sequencing and, in addition, reinforces science and social studies concepts."

In the future, Computer Explorers plans to offer a program teaching kids to program, or code, in Minecraft's "language," and thus are adding another dimension of learning in the form of coding. Parents and educators also realize that if they can find media that children find engaging, their ability to learn and synthesize data increases dramatically, she said.

In addition to Minecraft, the company's Lego Engineering & Robotics programs are also popular as are its Scratch Video Game Animation programs.

"Across the board, children are using 'play' to learn complex topics and to learn to build and to code," she said.

Gross came to Computer Explorers after she was downsized from a job in 2009 when she was working with a business coach who presented her with some opportunities, she said.

"I have always been a teacher-want-to-be and was gravitating toward businesses in the realm of children's services and education. When I became aware of Computer Explorers, I did my research and realized that there was a great need for programs such as these in the area."

Programs are offered for children 3 and older, but it could benefit those from preschool through middle school, she said.

"We are also teaching valuable 21st century skills such as critical thinking, communication and consensus building," she said. "The kids work in pairs and teams in all our programs, no matter if they are coding or creating digital movies. This builds social skills and teamwork skills as well, which is another reason why parents appreciate our programs as they allow their techies to hone their craft but in a team-based environment."

The game encourages critical thinking and problem-solving, collaboration and confidence, along with reinforcing the math, science, reading and social studies they are learning in school. They also learn about computer networking, Gross said.

"We are constantly looking at new and emerging technology and what it can teach our children," Gross said. "There is a huge emphasis on coding right now given the role it plays and will play in our children's future and our plans include expanding our offerings in this area: everything from Ruby (Java programming for kids) as well as modding (coding in Minecraft's language) and other fascinating technology like industrial design (with 3-D printing)."

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