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Published: 7/30/2008

Creative aggression teaches cooperation, problem-solving in Northwood

BY CARL RYAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Kevin Pfleghaar, 9, of Perrysburg, left, Laif Thorbahn, 10, of Woodville, Alex Thernykh, 10, of Perrysburg, and Zachery Briggs, 8, of Walbridge develop a carousel with LEGO blocks. Kevin Pfleghaar, 9, of Perrysburg, left, Laif Thorbahn, 10, of Woodville, Alex Thernykh, 10, of Perrysburg, and Zachery Briggs, 8, of Walbridge develop a carousel with LEGO blocks.
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Teacher John Kilmer checks on Patrick Hecker, 9, of Genoa and Toledoan Ben Sobieniak, 10. Teacher John Kilmer checks on Patrick Hecker, 9, of Genoa and Toledoan Ben Sobieniak, 10.
JETTA FRASER Enlarge

Put 24 boys in a room with LEGO kits and instructions to design and build winning Battle Bots, and you get a lot of enthusiasm and what might be called creative aggression.

That was the situation last week at Owens Community College, where children aged 8 through 13 tried out the new LEGO Battle Bots Program. The program was sponsored by Owens' Workforce and Community Services, on Tracy Road in Northwood.

The idea was to channel the children's competitive spirit in such a way that they would be exploring science, mathematics, and creative thinking.

Battle Bots, for the uninitiated, are miniature fighting machines made of LEGOS and driven by tiny battery-powered, gear-wheel motors also assembled by the participants.

A winning Battle Bot is one that, when placed in a little taped-off arena on the floor, disables or overturns the competition.

"It's a three-step process," explained Rhonda Hogrefe, who organized the program for Owens.

"The kids are given the task, they design the machine to accomplish the task, and then they build it. What we are actually doing is teaching them math and science. These kids, you can just look at them and see they love being here. It's great being part of that."

There is, however, one unavoidable characteristic about the children: they are all boys.

This isn't because girls aren't welcome, Ms. Hogrefe said. They are, and participate in Owens' LEGO engineering program.

She believes girls stay away because the more aggressive Battle Bots competition doesn't appeal to them the way it does to boys.

John Kilmer, a teacher who oversees the Battle Bot activities, said the program has been a surprise to him. "From the first day, I was astounded at the creativity of these kids. The designs they come up with is amazing."

Indeed, some of the Battle Bots look like mechanized creatures from a science-fiction film. Some have spinning javelins protruding in front of them. One had a noose designed to entangle an adversary.

Alex Chernykh, 10, of Perrysburg said he feels creative when he is working on a Battle Bot. "It's a lot of fun. You also get to meet new people."

Max Marquandt, 9, of Bedford Township said he lies in bed at night and thinks about his Battle Bot designs. "I like building stuff every day too," he explained.

Baxter Chamber, 13, of Bowling Green and Bennett Win, 11, of Sylvania found they make a good team. "He comes up with the basic ideas," said Baxter. "And he improves them," chimed in Bennett.

Mr. Kilmer noted that the boys learned from their Battle Bot defeats, a valuable intellectual habit. "They go back and come up with a new design that's better," he explained.

Joyce Keller, who observed her 11-year-old son Francis in the Battle Bot program, believed the experience was a good one for the boy.

"It brings a lot of kids together who are creative. They're using their creativity to explore different kinds of building," she said.

Ms. Hogrefe said the program will be held again next week, and there are openings. The cost is $120. For more information or to register call 567-661-7357 or 1-800-Go-Owens, extension 7357.



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