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High-tech LEGOs

lego kids

MU engineering students helped 18 youngsters learn to look at problems from all angles at a three-day InSITE LEGO robotics camp.  

Spring break is often synonymous with party time. But for 18 local third- through seventh-graders, spring break 2007 was an educational experience disguised as play time. The students spent three days in an InSITE LEGO robotics camp led by six MU engineering students.
It’s more than just snapping plastic blocks together. LEGO robotics come with computer chips, and the engineers taught the youngsters to program and design robots to master obstacle courses and compete in strength and speed contests.

“It always surprises me that, although you are there to teach the children what you know, you always learn a few things while working with them,” says Craig Weilbaecher, a doctoral student in biological engineering, InSITE fellow and camp co-coordinator. “They came up with ideas that I would have never thought of.”

InSITE stands for Integrating Science, Industrial Technology and Engineering. The National Science Foundation-sponsored program places graduate fellows armed with LEGO robotics kits into K-12 science classrooms. MU fellows currently work with eight Columbia Public Schools, Hallsville R-IV School and Moberly Middle School.

“We focus mostly on getting students excited about science, technology and engineering,” says Weilbaecher, of St. Louis. “They don’t even realize they’re learning about forces in motion, gear ratios and computer programming.”