Summer camp uses LEGO bricks to build engineering skills

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We wanted the kids to express themselves creatively while learning engineering concepts.

Construction activity around Virginia Commonwealth University is not all that unusual but last week at the VCU Carver Community Center, the builders were children and their projects, created out of LEGO® bricks and gears, were designed to help them build new skills as they learned about engineering.

The 36 builders, all between the ages of 5 and 11, took part in a summer camp meant to introduce future engineers to fundamental principles of engineering and physics. The morning and afternoon camps, a partnership between the VCU Division of Community Engagement and Play-Well TEKnologies, was designed to spark creativity, boost confidence and teach the children how to work together to solve challenges.

The campers’ experience was also enriched through interaction with college students who are studying engineering. Arthur Kay, who just graduated from VCU's School of Engineering and is the leader of the Carverponics Project at Carver Elementary School, and Tim Fogg, an engineering major at Virginia Tech, served as camp instructors.

“Play-Well contacted us to gauge our interest in hosting the camp,” said Tito Luna, neighborhood outreach director at the Division of Community Engagement. “We looked into it and thought it would be a great idea since it promotes engineering and we have a School of Engineering and we want to promote that field to our youth.”

The campers represented a mix of children from paying families and others sponsored by Play-Well TEKnologies and the Division of Community Engagement. The sponsored youth came from Peter Paul Development Center, Friends Association for Children and William Byrd Community House.

Each day’s camp session began with a scenario and a mission. In one session, the campers designed their own homes and then put the homes together to create a neighborhood. After realizing they needed a source of energy to power the homes, the children then created working windmills to provide energy to their neighborhood. In an interactive and fun way, they learned about how a pulley system is used to create energy.

“We wanted the kids to express themselves creatively while learning engineering concepts,” said Errol Thompson, area manager in charge of Virginia for Play-Well TEKnologies. “We wanted them to develop problem-solving skills, working together like engineers do in the real world. We saw a lot of ‘a-ha’ moments this week.”

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