Thursday, February 5, 2015

Brick by Brick 2015: Ready to Launch

Educator Diana Gordon and Deputy Education Director Laura Orr of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum (HRNM) go over last-minute arrangements for Lego shipbuilding activities at one of their "dry dock" work stations temporarily installed in the museum's Civil War gallery.  The docks are color-coded based on skill level and are equipped with kits and instructions appropriate to each skill level, such as the aircraft carrier America shown.         
The fourth annual day-long shipbuilding competition and event known as "Brick by Brick: LEGO Shipbuilding," to be held starting at 10 am Saturday, will feature a major change to the shipbuilding competition as well as a number of new activities spread throughout the first and second floors of the Nauticus building, located on the Norfolk waterfront.

"Something that you work on for weeks at home is obviously going to have an advantage over ships built here in just a few hours," said Laura Orr, Hampton Roads Naval Museum's deputy education director, as she explained the decision to split the builder's contest award categories this year into two major groups; those made before the competition off-site, and those made at the museum on Saturday. 

Also new for this year are a system of table top "dry docks" created for the on-site Make a Ship activities, which are color-coded by skill level, with green denoting "easy," blue for "intermediate," yellow for "hard," and red for "expert" model builders.  While those participating in the on-site builder's competition on the second floor scramble to create the best simulated seagoing vessels, those aspiring naval architects who have put in the sweat equity (not to mention their own pieces) into their creations at home need only bring them to a display area located in the Nauticus cafĂ© on the first floor. 

Judging for both competitions begins at 2 pm.  Not only will a panel of judges pick winners from each age category (4-6, 7-9, 10-12, 13-16, and 17+) within both builder's competitions, but a ship from each competition will also be judged a "fan favorite" based upon votes received from attendees.

Not all of the activities, however, involve building.  The attendee who comes the closest at estimating the number of Lego pieces contained in a large jar without going over will win that jar at 3:30 Saturday afternoon.

For those builders attracted to the event less by the thrill of competition and more by the desire to create and experiment, there will also be a "free play" section in the Battle of the Atlantic gallery of the museum located on the second floor.      

Some other firsts for this year:

- For the first time, there will be a Duplo building block area in the museum's Life at Sea gallery for the youngest building enthusiasts. 

- A Lego "Chalk Wall" will be installed near the Life at Sea gallery.

- A "Lego Man Craft" featuring two-dimensional characters who can be outfitted in a multitude of ways.

- A Lego "photo corner" complete with an event-themed backdrop will be in operation throughout the event, as well as a kid-sized "Lego man" photo cutout figure. 

- A Lego-themed corn hole game will be taking place toward the staircase located near the rear of the Nauticus first floor.

Another aspect of the builder's event became more polished and professionalized this year in the form of the glossy instruction manuals created by Matthew Eng of the Naval Historical Foundation (NHF), from designs created by HRNM Educator Don Darcy.  NHF support was also instrumental for getting the manuals professionally printed and bound, as well as for promoting the event on social media and procuring the builder competition prizes.

HRNM Education Director Lee Duckworth emphasized the vital role of volunteers in making the event come together, as about 70 volunteers will augment the staff for the Saturday event.  Some volunteers gave more than time to make the event preparation successful.  Naval architect Chris Adams, for example, contributed 500 pieces to the event, including many specialized for ship building. 

The extra activities translated to an additional number of hours spent preparing for the event between the staff and a devoted group of volunteers, which Orr said she could not possibly calculate at this point.  She could, however, certify that the interest generated by the extra time devoted to promoting the event on social media, local television, and flyers distributed throughout Hampton Roads could result in a much higher attendance this year than last. "I've gotten more calls than I've ever gotten in the past," she said, estimating that the number of attendees could top two thousand. 

This could result in slightly more of a challenge for the attendees vying for prizes in the on-site Make a Ship competition, which is restricted to vessels made on Saturday using pieces provided by the museum.

"If you plan on building something (here), come early," advised Educator Elijah Palmer, who made sure instructions and kits worked well together as well as promoting the event at libraries across the area.  Fellow educator Diana Gordon, said Orr, "did a lot of the grunt work," organizing the expanded number of activities for this year's event, copying promotional flyers and instructions, and counting the thousands upon thousands of Lego pieces, which will fuel the competition and creativity on Saturday. 

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