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Air Force technology camp gives children hands-on experience

Landon Henry, son of Master Sgt. Brian Henry of the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Airlift Wing, assembles a doodle bot that he created at the Air Force Services Activity Technology Camp in San Antonio, Texas, in August 2015. Henry was selected from among dependent applicants across the Air Force to attend the camp, which focuses on building confidence with technology through problem solving and hands-on learning. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

Landon Henry, son of Master Sgt. Brian Henry of the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Airlift Wing, assembles a doodle bot that he created at the Air Force Services Activity Technology Camp in San Antonio, Texas, in August 2015. Henry was selected from among dependent applicants across the Air Force to attend the camp, which focuses on building confidence with technology through problem solving and hands-on learning. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A foam-covered electric tooth brush with magic markers rubber-banded to it and whirling around on a piece of paper might not seem like rocket science to most people, but to 11-year-old Landon Henry, his Doodle Bot is an iron giant ready to conquer the world.

Henry, son of Master Sgt. Brian Henry, a member of the Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Communications Flight, assembled his makeshift robot while attending the Air Force Services Activity Youth Technology Camp in San Antonio, Texas, Aug. 10-14.

The camp, which was only open to Air Force and Air Guard dependent children in the sixth to eighth grades, focused on youth building self-confidence with technology through problem solving and hands-on learning.

With a strong emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math, the program touched on robotics, video game design, software design, hardware engineering and 3-D printing. Campers used code-writing programs such as Scratch, and engaged in hands-on activities with Makey Makey, an invention kit that turns ordinary objects into touchpads and connects them with computers.

"I made this really cool game on Scratch with someone else at the camp," said Henry, a sixth-grader at East Hardin Middle School in Glendale, Kentucky. "Then our teachers wanted us to try something new, so they had us hook up one end of the Makey Makey wires to the computer and the other end to a box, and we made our own controllers for the game we had just created."

Another highlight of the week for Henry was his creation of an LED robot and a visit from the Geekbus, a mobile technology classroom with activities for students. Henry's visit on the bus gave him the opportunity to print an object in 3-D.

"We watched a video on the bus about how a dog with no legs was made prosthetic limbs using the 3-D printer," he said excitedly. "They wanted us to know that it can be used to help others and do lots of different things."

Henry's project on the printer, which used special software and a soft plastic material for molding, didn't quite turn out as he had planned.

"We designed six different objects on the computer but we could only print out one of them," Henry explained. "I thought it was going to be big, but it turned out it wasn't. I was trying to design a pencil holder for one of my teachers and instead it turned out to be the size of one pencil."

Undeterred by his plastic mishap, Henry has continued his pursuit of technology by joining his school's robotics team, much to the delight of his dad.

"He has always had interest in technology but there's nothing around the area here for him," explained the elder Henry, who is information assurance manager for the 123rd Airlift Wing. "So when Family Services office sent out information about the camp, we jumped on it.

"Ever since he's been home, he is always on the computer practicing code, fixing code, which is really neat. He's interested in those things, and I didn't really know how to get him started."

To the younger Henry, getting him on the right path was all he needed to jumpstart his dream of someday becoming a computer game designer.

"I never thought I would be able to do anything like this," Henry explained. "I love technology and stuff but didn't get a lot of chances to learn it or use it. Math, science and technology are all things that I love. When my dad told me about the camp, I knew it was made for me."

With the support of his dad and people like his teachers from the Air Force technology camp, Henry made indeed have his dream come true and watch his iron giant virtually conquer the world.