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The first time 9-year-old Konnor Barthlama saw a tornado, he was visiting his grandparents in Oklahoma. When Barthlama heard the sirens roaring outside the house, he knew the situation was serious.

So he rammed a football helmet onto his head.

Barthlama's memory helped inspire a Lego creation that earned his Summit Elementary robotics team a spot at the Junior First Lego League World Festival Expo in St. Louis this spring. Competing teams designed a Lego creation around the theme of natural disaster.

The Summit students replicated a tornado. They built a neighborhood scene from Legos, complete with a spinning black tornado, an ambulance that drives down a Lego-paved road, and a Lego person sitting on a couch wearing a tiny football helmet.

"They did it," Summit parent and Lego coach Dallen Griffith said of his six-member team, which includes his daughter, Kynlee. "I gave them suggestions."

The Lego program is more than just tinkering with plastic toys, Griffith said. It's geared toward growing student interest in science, technology, engineering and math. Students must build at least one simple machine and one motorized piece into their 15-by-15-inch Lego model.

At Lego practice after school Wednesday, Barthlama and his classmates took turns reciting the good habits they learned during the project. They'll present what they've learned and how they built their tornado to judges at the championships in April.

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Don't tell others what to do, one student said. Begin with the end in mind, another said. Listen before you talk.

"Did just one person build the model?" Griffith asked.

"No, everybody built the model," Kaitlyn Barbarick, 8, said.

"We used each other's ideas to make them all better," Barthlama said.

Parent and assistant coach Brad Adels said he likes that his son Bradyn grows as a public speaker and problem solver by being part of the robotics team.

Adels plans to attend the championships April 24-25 in St. Louis if the group can raise $12,000 to cover travel costs for the six students and their parents.

Reach education reporter Leah Todd at 307-266-0592 or leah.todd@trib.com. Follow her on Twitter @leahktodd.

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