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West Neighborhoods
Lego-loving teacher in Montour inspires same mania in his charges, and education ensues

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

By Lynn Shea, Tri-State Sports & News Service

By the time 25-year-old Jason Burik took a job teaching sixth-grade English at David E. Williams Middle School this year, he had already built a small business out of his unusual talent and enthusiasm for playing with brightly colored interlocking plastic blocks.

So he knew exactly what he wanted to teach during the weekly Exploratory Time in his school on Porters Hollow Road in Kennedy.

Every Monday since January, a group of about 25 pupils has spent the last period of the day constructing a scale model of the school building out of Legos.

David E. Williams in the Montour School District is a multidimensional, two-story building sprawled across the side of a hill. Replicating its design presented significant challenges, even for Burik, who first gained fame as a Lego builder when he constructed a scale model of PNC Park.

"The building has lots of angles and it's built into a hillside," explained Burik.

He took the pupils outside and, using a digital camera, they photographed the building from every side. Their attempts to build using the photos were unsuccessful.

Finally, one of his pupils suggested they use the floor plan map hanging on the wall just outside of Burik's classroom as a guide.

"I never even noticed it," said Burik of the you-are-here type map, "and it ended up solving our problem."

Working from the map, the pupils began to lay out on paper the shape of the building so that they could establish the proper design. The photos were also used to help determine where to place the windows and doors.

Burik special-ordered the nearly 1,000 brick-red Lego blocks that were used. The finished model is 36-by-48 inches and approximates a 400-to-1 scale.

"It's not exact. It's more visual than mathematical," said Burik.

This is not the first time he has shared his Lego building skills with younger enthusiasts, though. Last summer, after teaching school in Baltimore, Burik considered running a weeklong basketball camp.

Burik, who played Division I basketball for the University of Maryland Baltimore County, said it was his uncle, John Zawinski, who persuaded him to run a Lego camp instead.

"He said everyone has basketball camps, you should do something with the Legos instead."

Twenty children from Freetown Elementary School in Anne Arundel County, Md., attended the weeklong camp last June and built a model of their elementary school.

Burik said the pupils learn more than just how to build with Legos. They learn and use math concepts such as measuring, estimating, ratio and scale as well as architectural and engineering design concepts and team building. He also incorporates digital photography, computer photo editing, economics and writing into the Lego camp curriculum.

Burik hopes to run more camps in the future. For now he is staying busy with private clients. He has built replicas of more than a dozen private homes in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Florida and Nebraska.

He also has built models of other sports arenas, including Camden Yards and B&T Stadium in Baltimore and replicas of the U.S. Capitol and Pittsburgh skyscrapers, such as the Gulf Building, Fifth Avenue Place, PPG Place and USX Tower.

Burik even built a globe out of Legos, no easy task considering the spherical shape was constructed entirely of blue and white square blocks.

Burik credited his uncle with encouraging him to pursue the business end of his Lego building. He and Zawinski have built and maintain a Lego building Web site at www.burikmodeldesign.com

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