Camp teaches kids engineering ‘FUNdamentals’

By Kevin Hotary - Staff Writer
Colchester - posted Tue., Aug. 2, 2011
Camp counselor Austin Nolette helps out Josiah and Noah as they work on their battle track vehicles. Photos by Kevin Hotary.
Camp counselor Austin Nolette helps out Josiah and Noah as they work on their battle track vehicles. Photos by Kevin Hotary.

“I’m totally doing this again next year,” said Josh, as he added the final pieces to his LEGO creation before pitting it in a head-to-head mechanical sumo match against another LEGO machine, crafted by another of the dozen or so young boys attending the week-long Engineering FUNdamentals camp, held in the Media Center of Jack Jackter Intermediate School.

Sponsored by the Parks and Recreation Department and run by Play-Well TEKnologies, the Engineering FUNdamentals camp teaches children ages 4 to 10 mechanical problem-solving skills and creative expression through the use of LEGOs – lots of LEGOs – with more than 100,000 pieces available, ranging from the familiar brick to electric motors.

Over the course of the week-long camp, the kids will build pulley cars, merry-go-rounds, castles and catapults, or battle tracks – like this day’s assignment, in which the campers construct a motorized vehicle of their own design that will travel down a track, meeting another vehicle somewhere near the middle, with the goal of knocking the opposing vehicle off the track. The winner earns the chance to take on a vehicle designed by camp counselor Austin Nolette, who claims to have never lost a bout.

“We give them challenges. We teach them the basics, and they explore it any way they want,” said camp instructor Marc Cellini. And the basics are things that many parents should be familiar with, from their high school or college days. Concepts like friction, momentum and velocity - along with the ways in which energy is transferred to moving parts and how gear trains and pulley systems work - are all part of the course, incorporated into the instruction in a way that makes physics fun.

“They’re excited. It’s the battle track day,” said Nolette, as the noise level in the room grew with each match. Done on the last day of camp, the battle track event was the favorite of many of the campers.

As the battles raged, Nash, one of the campers, sat quietly off to the side, stealthily working on his vehicle. “This is my first time doing this, and I have a pretty good idea on how I can win the battle tracks,” he said, adding, “Marc taught me a little secret.”

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