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Kids play, learn with high-tech Legos
W LEGOS ROBOTICS 01
Alexander Kroll of Brunswick, 10, right, and partner Daniel McAlhany of Statesboro, 8, have a blast as they assemble a vehicle during the Georgia Southern University Legos Robotics Camp. The camp is the first in a series for the university's Youth College. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

      Playing with Legos is nothing new for a group of students attending a three-day camp at Georgia Southern University. But piloting a robotic assemblage of moving parts, with the aid of computer programming, was never part of their Lego toys.
      Lego Robotics Camp was held this week inside the Nessmith -Lane Continuing Education Building. It offered campers an opportunity to create, build and operate high-tech Legos while gaining an introduction into basic robotics.
      More than 20 students from Dublin to Statesboro spent the week after Christmas building and programming robotic cars, insects and even sumo wrestlers under the guidance of Dr. Bob Cook, professor of Computer Science at Georgia Southern and the NASA Space Grant Coordinator. The camp ended Wednesday.
      "This is part of a youth college initiative with the continuing education outreach group at Georgia Southern," said Cook. "This is the first three-day intensive camp that concentrates on building with Legos."
      The camp is a part of the NXT Lego Educational Series, and allows students in grades three through six to build, and bring to life, their own robotic creations - creations like a tractor-pulling car, a walking insect and a mobile robot that can kick, talk and go toe-to-toe with other machines inside a makeshift sumo wrestling ring.
      The intent of the camp is to create and foster an attitude towards robotics and learning that extends beyond the classroom doors.
      "If you think about it, America is a nation of builders; and we really aren't building anything anymore," said Cook. "The idea here is to find kids with an interest in building things, and encourage it."
      "The main goal of these camps is to create an ‘ah-ha' moment for the kids," said Holly Brannen, program development specialist for the camp. "We want to give them a new hobby or idea that could become a big deal in their life."
      The effort, according to Cook, is part of a new initiative in early childhood education. An attempt to teach kids by actively doing things - like building robots out of Legos.
      "It costs money to have things kids can touch. You have to invest to get better results," he said. "We're lucky here at Georgia Southern in that we have a top college of education. It is a good place to try out new ideas."
      According to Brannen, more sessions will be held to correspond with breaks throughout the school year. Other camps are designed for kids in grades three through 12 and will aim to maintain a fun and educational balance, she said.
      As for this week's camp, "it's pretty fun," said J.T. Osborne, a camper still gathering pieces to finish his potential sumo champion. "I do a lot with Legos," but when it comes to robots, "this is the first time."
      Jeff Harrison can be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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