Technology is a snap

Journal/Sam Green

Ellen McAlpin builds a robot at the LEGO® camp.

By Michael Maresh Journal staff writer

Seven Montezuma County students learned about robotics while using LEGO® toys to build robots at a LEGO® robotics summer camp in Dolores last month.

Nine-year-old Bess McAlpin said she wanted to join the camp because she is really into robots and likes playing with LEGOS®.

Building the robot, she said, was not too hard, but added it was not that easy either and it took her about two hours to complete.

Trent Bagge, also nine years old, said he thought the entire camp was fun because it taught him a lot about robots and how they operate.

The Mesa Elementary School fourth-grader said the camp was his mom’s idea, but it turned out to be fun.

“I have always been interested and always wanted to build a robot,” he said.

Seven-year-old Johanna Thebert said what she liked most about the camp was building the robot and then being allowed to steer it.

Upon seeing a completed version of one of the robots, the Mesa Elementary first-grader said she thought it was cool, which convinced her to try to build her own.

After exploring the town of Dolores and the surrounding countryside to learn how people put things together and took them apart, the children used the LEGO® NXT, which combines the versatility of the LEGO® building system with all-new technologies, an intelligent micro-computer brick and intuitive drag-and-drop programming software.

The robots are much more than advanced toys, said instructor Sam Bridgham of Alpine Educational Associates. LEGO® robotics is a fully functional robotic system that includes a microcomputer and processor with sensors.

“These are toys, but you can do science with them as well,” he said. “It’s an educational toy, but it is a micro processor with sensors.”

The camp is an educational event that teaches science, engineering, technology and math, Bridgham said, adding that camps like this can help augment the education of students whose public schools can no longer provide such extras.

He said the children who attend his camps always ask if they could build certain things with LEGO® robotics and the answer to those inquiries is always yes. Students were able to design robots and provide information to the robots’ microcomputers to tell them what to do.

Bridgham, who has been working with LEGO® robotics for more than a year, said he became interested while volunteering at the Durango Discovery Center. He said youngsters really loved the LEGO® activities, and parents began asking him if he could provide their children with additional instruction. Before starting the program, Bridgham said, he began to learn more about LEGO® robotics.

Bridgham said the projects and materials the children use during the $240-per-student camp stay with him and the program. Each robot , including adding the sensors and micro processors, costs more than $300.

He also said LEGO® has a renewable energy kit that collects energy from solar power, but no one has yet to make a waterwheel using LEGO® blocks and toys.

Unlike a clay, pottery or art class, Bridgham said nothing goes in the trash can at the end of the day, as LEGO® toys can be changed to something completely different on a whim with no waste.

“It is clearly indestructible,” he said of the robots the children designed. “Kids pick it up very quickly. Every kid can do something with it and have a good time.”

Reach Michael Maresh at

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