Teens put talents on display at Camp Zama technology fair

By JULIANA GITTLER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 26, 2004

CAMP ZAMA, Japan — A dozen teens from Camp Zama and Atsugi Naval Air Facility displayed the claymation movies, animation, TV commercials and robots they’ve created this year during a technology fair Friday at the Zama Youth Center technology lab.

“The kids wanted a fair to show off what they’ve done all year,” said Ervin Lawrence, technology lab instructor.

The fair allowed participants to display their projects and gave other kids a chance to learn about the club.

Through 4-H, a Department of Agriculture youth education program, Zama’s Youth Center offers a technology lab to initiate youngsters into high technology. While 4-H often involves animal husbandry, the national group has a major technology component.

Most projects merge interactive art with science and technology. “It’s an opportunity to learn technology, not just computers,” Lawrence said. “That’s why we’re called a tech lab now, not a computer lab.”

All year, the club created projects using computers, robotics, global positioning systems and art forms such as stop-action claymation.

Claymation uses technology and clay figures as well as illustrations to make movies. It’s a far cry from the simple animation of famous 1950s television shows like the Gumby Show, Lawrence said.

“We do better than Gumby,” he added. “It’s really, really cool.”

In one project, a clay dragon emerges from a cave and is attacked by a stick-figure drawing.

The club also uses Lego bricks to create high-tech robots that can be programmed to react to touch, sound and other senses.

“It’s a fun way to learn about robotics,” Lawrence said.

He said he hopes the group can enter robotics competitions.

The GPS projects include treasure hunts and a game in which participants pretend they’re attacked and run around to avoid incoming bombs. The GPS tells them if they’ve been hit — a great way to get kids moving outdoors, Lawrence said.

And they use a Cartoon Network program called “Animate Your World” that lets students customize animation and add their voices to Cartoon Network characters.

“We’re trying to get more people interested and involved,” Lawrence said, “letting the general community see what we’re about.”

The group, which meets Tuesdays afternoons, is open to sixth- through 12th-graders. Lawrence said he plans to create a TV commercial every month, which they hope to play on American Forces Network television.

He said he also hopes to increase competitions and shows.

Call DSN 263-8573 for more information.

Isaac Pope, 16, makes some adjustments to his Lego robot before the Tech Fair at the Youth Center on Camp Zama.

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