Legos, Guitars and Handlebars

Come join us this weekend at Mesa Arts Center’s Guitars and Handlebars Season Kickoff Festival. Along with all of the great activities and live music, Gangplank Jr and Building Bonanza will be there hosting Lego events from 10am-4pm on Saturday and 10am-2pm on Sunday.

If you are already a part of the Gangplank Jr First Lego League, we will be unveiling this season’s mat and challenges.  From 10am-12pm on Saturday, we will assemble the boards for this year and discuss the various tactics we can use to achieve the missions. There will also be a Sumo bot challenge (2-4pm), a large master building session with Building Bonanza and a free robotics build to handle various challenges (12-2pm).

Sunday will start off with First Lego League information for this year’s challenges and a chasis build competition, followed by another master build session from the guys at Building Bonanza.

As if all of that wasn’t enough to excite you, a full size replica of a Harley Davidson will be built from Legos by certified Lego artist Nathan Sawaya over the course of the two days.  Don’t miss out on the family fun at this great event.

Gangplank Jr School Supply Drive

UPDATE 7/22 – With current donations, we’ve been able to fill 26 backpacks. We are still in need of the following (in order by most desired):

  • Backpacks! Keep ’em coming
  • Binders
  • Looseleaf paper
  • Graph Paper
  • Protractors
  • Calculators
  • Planners
  • Markers
  • Construction Paper
  • Colored Pencils
  • Scissors
  • Hand sanitizer

Time again for the Gangplank Jr School Supply Drive. Last year we donated 44 FULL backpacks to low-income students in the Chandler Unified School District.

Not only do we intend to top that this year, we’ve added high school supplies to the mix to reach a wider range of students. All you need to do is drop off said supplies at a participating Locations (see below). Deadline is Friday, August 5th to drop off your supplies. Continue reading

Gangplank Jr Journalism Program

Children have a natural curiosity that makes them excellent journalists. As any parent can tell you, they are always questioning and see everything.

The Gangplank Jr Journalism Program seeks to build upon this natural curiosity, teaching kids to use their powers of observation to inform others. Participants will learn the importance of the first amendment, how to write different types of stories such as news and feature, podcasting, video as well as create a working news site as the final product.

The Gangplank Jr Journalism Program takes place over 9-weeks, beginning July 9th. Meetings will take place each Saturday at 2:00pm. Kids must attend at least five of the meetings in order to participate in the ‘First Issue’ workshop on September 9th.

Please join us for our first meeting on Saturday, July 9th at 2:00pm at Gangplank.

Schools of the Future

It is no secret that Gangplank Jr is an experiment to see what could be possible in educating kids for the new economy.  Here is a sample of what a school in the future might look like.  If you are interested in seeing this sort of thing happen for your children, please sign up and get involved.


Great Book For Anyone Involved in First Lego League

I just finished reading Winning Design Lego Mindstorms NXT Design Patterns for Fun and Competition.  I know quite a mouthful for a book on Legos, but I must say for anyone looking to get involved or already involved with Lego Mindstorms or First Lego League this book is gold.

We run several teams at Gangplank and are in our second year.  The author’s experiences and tips are wonderful.  Even some of the simpler things that would seem obvious are mistakes we have made in our first year and when I read them I thought, “Well, duh, why didn’t I think of that?”.  The reason is simple inexperience.  As basic as Legos are, the First Lego League can really make you have to do some complex things with those Legos and that can lead to missing many of the items pointed out in the book.  Also, the time to really get your bot and presentation goes by extremely fast.  I am looking forward to implementing some of the techniques in this book this year to help optimize that short time we have to get ready.

At our next meeting in June, I am going to recommend to all of our parents and kids that they pick up a copy of the book and read it and for our mentor’s this will become required reading.


Winning Design LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT Design Patterns for Fun and CompetitionWinning Design LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT Design Patterns for Fun and Competition by James Jeffrey Trobaugh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Why I Let a Ten-Year-Old Tattoo Me

Gangplank’s guest-blogging series illustrates the array of personalities and experiences embodied by our community. All invited participants – past brownbag speakers, anchors, new members, City of Chandler employees and others – share their Gangplank stories. Interested guest posters should send a draft to our Director of Operations.

By Chris Conrey, Human to Geek Relations for Integrum and ‘Don’t Sell Me Bro‘ podcaster

“You guys are crazy man.”

That’s what the professional tattoo artists from Tabu Tattoo told us when we said that five of us were going to let kids put real tattoos on our bodies at the “Making Your Art Permanent” Gangplank Jr event. Confidence inspiring for sure.

“Nasty” Nate Houtz, along with Adam and Chris, led the class for 12 kids ranging in age from 4 to 14. Beginning with some basics about how a tattoo machine works, followed by a practical demonstration on a grapefruit, the kids were ready to rock and roll. They started by drawing on their own grapefruit with a sharpie, then took turns using a real tattoo machine to make it permanent, just like they would do on a person. After a few butterflies, smiley faces, skulls, and other pieces were added to various members of a healthy breakfast, Greg Taylor, Derek Neighbors, Laurie Neighbors, Mike Benner and myself geared up to be put to the real test – a kid with a tattoo machine aimed at our skin.

Derek, Laurie and Mike can at least say it was their own kids, to justify letting a kid ink them up. Greg and I lent our bodies to be the canvas for Susan Baier’s two kids. Emma, who was turning 11 the next day, asked me no less than 4 times if I was sure this was ok before she applied the stencil to my arm in preparation for the tattoo. There were probably three more reassurances before the needle first touched my arm, but once contact was made she was off to the races with a big grin. Just a few minutes later I had a Gangplank Jr skull logo on my left bicep that would go home with me forever (pending amputation of course).

But why would I let a 10 year old have the chance to permanently scar me? What sort of crazy person would do that?

My thoughts on it are simple – you only live once, and so do the kids. What better way to show them that taking risks can be done in a safe environment with people who can help teach and guide you? This was an opportunity to give those kids a chance to do something that no one in their peer group will experience for years, if ever. I am proud to be a part of it. Conventional wisdom says to go to a professional like Nate, Adam or Chris if you’re inclined to get inked – but that’s the same conventional wisdom that tells you to not let kids take risks or learn about dangerous things.

The dozen kids who got to handle a tattoo machine that day will never forget it, and I’d be willing to say that their curiosity has been tickled. Who knows what sort of artists or creative minds we jumpstarted that day? I can’t wait to find out.

Getting Dangerous with Your Kids

Why wait for Gangplank Jr. Events to get crazy and have fun with your kids? There are so many neat events to go to, crafts & experiments you can do together at home. Every week, I will write about something dangerous, fun, wacky, or inspiring for you and your kids to try. There will be events around town, fun science experiments to try at home, great things to observe, and just plain fun things to try with your kids every week for you to check out.


Contests are a great way to get your kids involved, inspired and using their natural creativity! Right now there is a contest underway for kids from grades K-6 who live or go to school in Chandler. The task is for the kids to create a poster surrounding the theme, “Chandler Municipal Airport. Your neighbor for more than 60 years.” This is the 2011 Poster Contest for Chandler AirportDayz on April 16 &17. AirportDayz is a weekend of aviation fun with food, music, displays, rides (for a fee), and an airport history exhibit. How much fun would it be to research planes together online, look at pictures, find the science (physics) behind how planes fly. Then they can research the Chandler Municipal Airport and what kind of planes fly in and out of there. Lastly, let your child’s creativity run wild. The Grand Prize is a flight over Chandler in a Piper Archer or a Great Lakes bi-plane!

Here are all the details:

Entries are due no later than 5:00PM on Friday April 8th. Posters should be no larger than 14 x 22 inches. The judging criteria will be based on incorporation of theme, composition, presentation, technique and subject.
The website below gives you the address where you will turn in your poster, and the entry form. The entry form is on the website as well. There is more great information about AirportDayz as well at

So, here’s to research, art, and creativity!
Good luck kids and most importantly, have some dangerous fun.

Making Your Art Permanent

Come join us for the most “dangerous” art session around.

Noah practicing on MikeApril 17th from 2-4pm at Gangplank we will be hosting a learn to tattoo event for kids 8 and older.  Artists Nate “Nasty Nate” Houtz, Adam “A-Bomb” Molina and Johnny “Jevvy Jev”  from Tabü Tattoos will be on hand to go over the equipment, keeping things sterile, stenciling and much more.

This is a hands on event.  The kids will be tattooing grapefruit, oranges and any other citrus we can get our hands on with REAL tattoo machines, ink and needles.  For those that want to take it to the next level several Gangplank Jr supporters have even offered up their skin for actual tattoos from the new apprentices.

You must RSVP for this event as space and machines will be limited.  Please leave a comment below if you plan on attending.

Gangplank Jr Invades Desert Code Camp 2011.1 (Mindstorms, Scratch, Small Basic, Kodu & Electronics)

On April 2nd from 8am – 5pm at Chandler/Gilbert Community College will be Desert Code Camp 2011.1.  This is the third Desert Code Camp that Gangplank Jr will have a track.  In fact, this time there will be 2 Gangplank Jr tracks.  That’s right with the help of Lynn Langit, Roy Van De Water, Michael Christenson II, and Adam Mokan we will have our biggest showing yet.

There are 3 sessions for Lego Mindstorms, 2 Scratch sessions, an electronics session and several SmallBasic and Kodu Workshops.  With this many options any technical minded child should be able to find something to peak their interest.  Check out the track details on the Desert Code Camp Site.

Looking forward to seeing you all there for a great day of programming, bot building and collaboration.

Gangplank Jr Nascar Auction

Looking for something to do this weekend?  Have we got a deal for you.  The Subway Fresh Fit 500 is Sunday and we have 2 great tickets up for auction.  Nascar is always a great time and these tickets are located right in the turn.  Don’t miss the roar of the motors and the rush of cars exchanging paint at over 100 mph.  All of the proceeds go to fund the Gangplank Jr Initiative.

Don’t want to miss the auction or lose to the highest bidder?  You can Buy It Now for $500.

We would like to thank Jeff Weninger for the ticket donation and being a continuing supporter of Gangplank Jr.

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