Iowa City Press-Citizen: Legos Come Alive

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Kids building robots at new UI camp

By Alesha L. Crews
Iowa City Press-Citizen

Eleanor Dixon, 7, and Aden Hageman, 7, work to build a lever Tuesday during the LEGO Learners summer camp.
 

Eleanor Dixon, 7, and Aden Hageman, 7, work
to build a lever Tuesday during the LEGO Learners
summer camp.

 

Elijah Fiegel, 6, receives a helping hand as he puts together a lever Tuesday during the LEGO Learners summer camp at the Seamans Center.

Elijah Fiegel, 6, receives a helping hand as he puts together
a lever Tuesday during the LEGO Learners summer camp
at the Seamans Center.

David Scrivner / Iowa City Press-Citizen photos

Elementary students are avoiding the heat and getting an introduction to engineering principles at the University of Iowa’s LEGO Learners camp this week.

The five-day camp, which is open to students who have completed first, second or third grade, uses specialized Lego kits to introduce students to the concepts behind simple machines, motors and programming. The camp repeats Monday through June 29 and July 30 to Aug. 3.

After mastering gears, wheels, axles, levers and pulleys, the students will incorporate basic computer programing skills to create functional robots out of Lego kits. Among the creations will be a robotic alligator that will be able to open and close its mouth and an airplane that makes various noises based on its incline.

The curriculum for the LEGO Learners camp, which was adopted by UI for the first time this summer, was developed by LEGO Education. The kits were funded through a Giacoletto Foundation grant.

Becca Whitaker, K-12 outreach director for the College of Engineering, said she was happy with the positive response to the new program, which has seen all three summer sessions filled. She said the university plans to schedule more camps in the future.

A.J. Parker, 9, said he likes to play and learn with Lego bricks because he likes the freedom that building gives him.

“I’m really excited for building,” A.J. said. “I like that you can do what you want with them and make what you want.”

Whitaker said students benefit from the camp in many ways, from being introduced to simple machines and the basic functions of physics to learning about problem solving and the importance of documentation.

“Everybody can relate to Legos, and it is really quite amazing that everybody can learn from Legos,” Whitaker said.

Camp instructor Melinda Stonebraker said the camp is special because it gives the students a platform to solve problems with a medium that the students already are familiar and comfortable with.

“It is giving them the language and some experimentation and some documentation skills because all of those things are so important in engineering,” Stonebraker said.

For more information about the program or other University of Iowa engineering camps and programs, go to http://k-12.engineering.uiowa.edu/.