Paper tube bridges

Published: 30/01/2017

Michael Cortis discusses the recent bridge building workshops held in our UK Northern Counties Region.

Michael Cortis has been a member of the Institution since 2010. Here he discusses the bridge building workshops he helped organise for 11-13 year old children at The Chorister School (in Durham) and Dame Allan's School (in Fenham, Newcastle).

At an early stage of my childhood I loved building stuff in my father’s workshop, and this help me to build a passion for structural engineering – the principle, of getting children thinking about the way thing go together, is the same for the workshops we ran in November.

The idea of building a paper tube structure is a great way to introduce children to structural engineering, because they think about how to make a structure strong, using a material that they are familiar with. Strength depends not only on material, but also geometry at different levels and for the first stage we asked the children to create the structural elements, while the second stage saw them assemble the elements into a bigger structure. We then held a competition to see who had made the strongest bridge.

It is an interesting fact that nowadays children are more conscious about the technology that surround them. But most often than not, construction technology is neglected and less appreciated. We can use the workshops to get children curious about the structures that surround them, identify different members, and learn how they stand up. It’s also important that they get familiarised with the structural engineering profession to consider it for their future careers. After all, engineering is about problem solving, and if any of the children are into it, they should definitely consider a career in engineering.

The workshops were organised and run by myself and two civil engineering students from Durham University, Louisa Quarterman and Callan McCabe – thanks to them for their brilliant help. We had around 20-25 students each class, and it was great to hear the questions from the children who were very curious about what I do – they wanted to know how engineers use computers to design buildings, and if engineers build models like the ones we produced in the class. 

It was also really rewarding to see how much the teachers appreciated the workshops, which they saw as a real extra-curricular benefit to the pupils - indeed they have asked us to develop other activities for their schools related to engineering.

I’d like to thank James Randle from The Chorister School and Jenny Lines from Dame Allan's School, for helping out in organising these really satisfying, fun events.

(Below: a workshop in action at Dame Allan's School)


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