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Lego camp harbors technical creativity

Jude Cupp (left) and Country Wasilweski play with their Lego airplane models. Chris Bashaw/22nd Century Media
Victoria Mouwen explains how an airplane works to summer campers in the Michael Landon Center at Malibu Bluffs Park.
Jax Brady lands his LEGO airplane model at a LEGO airport. Photos by Chris Bashaw/22nd Century Media
Play Well instructor Kim Snow (right) shows a summer camper how to fix his LEGO airplane model.
Chris Bashaw, Assistant Editor
2:16 pm PDT July 28, 2014

The sound of a thousand LEGO bricks swishing about in a plastic bin is a cacophony to some, a symphony to others.

Judging from the smile across Victoria Mouwen’s face, she may as well have been listening to Mozart.

“I had a bin of bricks when I was a kid and playing with LEGOs was one of my favorite things to do,” the Play Well Teknologies instructor said.

Mouwen was filling in for another instructor of the City of Malibu-hosted LEGO pre-engineering summer camp, and said the class’ objective is to teach basic engineering concepts to children between the ages of 5 and 7.

“We’ve talked about things like gear ratios and how we can make one gear turn faster or slower,” she said. “The whole idea is learning about engineering, but letting the kids build by themselves.”

A key takeaway from the class, aside from the engineering concepts, is the often-newfound problem-solving skills children learn.

“If a kid comes up to me and says their model’s not working, I’ll usually tell them to think about why it’s not working before I walk them through it,” Mouwen said. “We’re really not only trying to teach engineering, but problem-solving skills as well, which can be really hard for some of the younger kids because they don’t even think about how they can fix it, so getting them to think in that light is important.”

Mouwen said she and the children gather in a semi-circle, where she shows them how to build a basic design, allowing them to customize it to their preferences afterward.

On Wednesday, July 25, the day’s lesson was about airplanes. Mouwen – who has a multiple-subject teaching credential for kindergarten through fifth grade, as well as a background in science ¬– explained airfoils, thrust and drag to approximately 15 fidgeting Malibu boys who enthusiastically raised their hands after almost every point of learning was achieved.

After Mouwen showed the campers how to mount wings and a tail onto a LEGO motor, they were permitted to customize their airplane models as they pleased.

While some propeller and landing gear configurations were more questionable than others, each model – guided by the hand of its creator – was soon zooming around the Michael Landon Center at Malibu Bluffs Park.

Some models were engaged in epic aerial battles, others were transporting passengers to and from nearby airports that the children constructed earlier in the day. Some even crash-landed on a nearby piano.

“It’s a great medium for us because there’s so much we can do with it,” Mouwen said of LEGO as a construction toy. “It’s so versatile and LEGO has so much to offer, especially because it’s such high-quality that lasts a long time. We’ve had some pieces for around 10 years.”

As for working with children, Mouwen finds it a rewarding experience.

“I know some people don’t have the patience for it, but I really love it,” she said. “I just really enjoy working with them and being able to teach them things. It’s really great when I see kids again and they tell me they remember what I taught them.”