2007-11-16 / Community

Children learn about engineering, architecture with Legos

By Sylvie Belmond belmond@theacorn.com

SYLVIE BELMOND/Acorn Newspapers PLAY AND LEARN- Catalina and Jonah Guitierrez use a pneumatic claw and a mechanized truck to grab Legos scattered on the floor at the Arroyo Vista Recreation Center during a Lego Engineering class. The Engineering FUNdamentals with Legos program is offered by Play-Well TEKnologies to enhance problem-solving skills and creative expression through play. SYLVIE BELMOND/Acorn Newspapers PLAY AND LEARN- Catalina and Jonah Guitierrez use a pneumatic claw and a mechanized truck to grab Legos scattered on the floor at the Arroyo Vista Recreation Center during a Lego Engineering class. The Engineering FUNdamentals with Legos program is offered by Play-Well TEKnologies to enhance problem-solving skills and creative expression through play. Last Friday afternoon children at the Lego Engineering class at the Arroyo Vista Recreation Center played and socialized with friends while learning fundamentals of engineering and architecture in a noncompetitive setting.

The concepts of friction, gravity and torque might seem challenging even to adults, but they didn't intimidate the six boys and a girl who were building pneumatic claws using Lego gears, axles, beams, pistons and small air pumps.

The lesson in progress was about how gears mesh together and pneumatic pumps work when compressed air is used to effect mechanical motion, said PlayWell instructor Douglas Espinoza, an engineering student at Cal State Northridge.

The small group observed Espinoza as he demonstrated how to build the pneumatic claw, and then they went to work, seeking the right parts for their contraptions from about 10 boxes containing thousands of Lego components.

While children tinkered with their projects individually, Espinoza provided one-on-one guidance. He also named the parts to help the young builders understand exactly what they were working with.

The end product worked like a forklift's claw but used compressed air instead of the fluids that power up the hydraulic grabbing tool used on construction work sites.

Adam Simons and Jonah Gutierrez, like most of the youngsters in the group, enrolled in the program because they enjoy building things.

"Kids love it. It's noncompetitive, and they build different things every week," said Kim Clements, whose 10-year-old son Brandon was putting the final touches on a Lego submarine.

The program, Engineering FUNdamentals with Legos, is offered by Play-Well TEKnologies to enhance children's problemsolving skills and creative expression through play.

When building things with their own hands using the versatile Lego building system, children gain a greater appreciation of how things work, said Darren Bleier, regional director for PlayWell TEKnologies.

Kids already know how to build with Legos, but with a little coaching they can learn engineering, architecture and concepts of physics and mathematics using the tiny plastic components, said Bleier.

The class also helps students understand that engineering is a viable career choice, he said.

Participants build a new project each week. Sometimes motorized components are used to construct cars and Ferris wheels, or architectural concepts are taught while assembling bridges and other structures.

Once the weekly project is completed, children use the rest of their time to expand their gadgets and collaborate with one another. Jonah and his sister Catalina mounted the claw on a motorized truck to grab the Lego pieces scattered on the floor of the multipurpose room where the class is taught.

"The Lego Engineering class appealed to us because it provides a fun and social environment for children to play as well as learn," said Stephanie Shaw, recreation coordinator for the Moorpark Recreation Division. The department is always seeking new ways to provide interesting and innovative programs.

Registration for the next Lego engineering class will begin on Dec. 3. The 10-week program costs is $152.

The city is also going to offer a five week Pre-engineering class for children, ages 5 to 7, from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Arroyo Vista Recreation Center. Both sessions will begin on Jan. 18, 2008.

For more information, call the Moorpark Recreation Center at (805) 517-6300.

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