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Youths build computer skills

Elaine Lebel, Mary Smith and Melissa Burke took turns typing commands into the computer. They were determined to make this thing work.

They all beamed with satisfaction and confidence when the traffic lights they had built blinked on and off. It was obvious they were old pros at this computer programing language and construction set, LEGO TC Logo.

The three 13-year-olds are members of the deaf education class at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School in Largo. Throughout the school year, the children build simple machines using LEGO blocks and write computer programs that make the machines work.

"For these kids, hands-on things are the best thing," said Jodie Galik, who teaches hearing-impaired children at Morgan Fitzgerald. "They come up with their own procedures and they correct their own mistakes."

LEGO TC Logo provides elementary and middle school pupils of all backgrounds and levels of ability with practical, hands-on experience on the computer.

The concept involves good old LEGO blocks, which are used to build machines that are hooked up to a computer and then controlled by computer commands. The children quickly become experts in computer lingo and troubleshooting.

Morgan Fitzgerald is one of five schools in Pinellas County and about 75 schools in Florida that are using LEGO TC Logo in the classroom.

Lou Greco, media specialist for the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine, said he uses LEGO TC Logo extensively with his students in a variety of subject areas, including science, math, social studies and reading.

"This is a success because kids like LEGOs so much," Greco said. "It helps them understand the whole concept behind how machinery works. They're not just memorizing how a machine works. They're creating it. They feel like they've really produced something."

The children can build traffic lights, a motorized car, a merry-go-round or a washing machine. After becoming familiar with these machines, they are encouraged to create their own projects.

"I like making things," said Elaine of Fitzgerald Middle. "My favorite was the merry-go-round."

Mary and Melissa, who built the traffic signals at Fitzgerald Middle, said they knew almost nothing about computers before they came into contact with LEGO TC Logo.

"You really learn a lot," Mary said.