M. Khurram Wadee is Past Chairman of our Devon & Cornwall Regional Group. Here he talks us through the recent school engineering competition the Group organised, bringing the wonder of engineering alive for a new generation of local children.
The Devon & Cornwall Regional Group engages in a variety of activities, from technical evenings to engagement with university students, plus talks about exciting construction projects from around the world.
One of the more unusual activities we run is the annual Schools Competition, where teams of Year Six pupils compete to build the best model structures out of tubes of paper.
Each year we try to cover as wide a catchment area as possible and in the past we have held the competition at the Eden Project (St Austell), Paignton Zoo, Tavistock, Penryn, and the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth. This year we made Barnstaple our base.
Four schools took part: Newport Community School, Ashleigh Church of England Primary, Bratton Fleming Community Primary School, Pilton Bluecoat Primary School and Swimbridge Church of England Primary School. We welcomed over fifty children on the day, asking teachers to split them into teams of about five or six, ensuring that no individual has too much to do and no pupil feels left out.
The activities were organised by John Allen, of Input UK, supported by four undergraduates from the University of Exeter who had volunteered to help. This year, John’s challenge for the children was to build a half-scale shelter that could be used in the aftermath of an earthquake. The structure should be a triangulated 3D truss made of paper tubes and joined by steel nuts and bolts and must be large enough to house at least three team members. The shelter also had to support a minimum of a 2 kg mass suspended from its highest point. John brought along all the paper, nuts, bolts, hole-punches and sticks the children could need.

It is a really creative exercise which also teaches the children invaluable lessons about team work, problem-solving, time management and task allocation. It is always astounding to me how the children, with little or no prior knowledge, manage to start from scratch and, with just a little guidance, construct a sizeable structure in as little as four hours.
It is a secondary issue which team wins, as long as the pupils have had a positive introduction to structural engineering. Nevertheless, for the record, the team from Bratton Flemming Primary School was declared the winner by the panel of structural engineers, on the basis of its strong structural performance, symmetry and care in construction.
The Schools Competition is always very successful in introducing structural engineering in a fun, practical way to young pupils. We hope that at least some may have been persuaded to consider engineering as a career and we look forward to bringing this event to others parts of the region in years to come.
I would like to acknowledge the following for their help in organising this year's event:
  • Edward Maunder for contacting schools and volunteering to help during the actual event.
  • John Allen of Input UK for yet again organising a challenging structural problem.
  • Sonja Gysin of Petroc for organising the hall facilities and catering.
  • David Frampton, Alistair Greatorex, Victoria Triay-Jimenez and Maria Ruiz Gonzalez, our undergraduate volunteers.
  • Teachers and assistants from participating schools

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