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Making things and solving problems

Andrew McFadden and Megan Greig, structural engineers at AKTII’s London headquarters, explain their Straw-ctural Engineering Challenge at open House Families 2018.

Our Open Families workshop is called the Straw-ctural Engineering Challenge, where kids have the opportunity to build colourful miniature bridges out of plastic straws and paperclips - and see how far they can span.
 

At the end of the day, the builder of the longest-spanning bridge will be sent out a little "junior engineer’s kit" that we’ve put together in the office.

Basic engineering concepts

The idea is to engage children in thinking about some basic engineering concepts like tension and compression in a way that they can experiment with and that allows them to be creative.

Pinned connections can be made by simply linking some paperclips together and pushing the ends into straws – the ease of making (and taking apart) these models will hopefully enable kids to develop an intuitive understanding of structures through trial and error, finding out through play what works and what doesn’t.

On the day we’ll be placing some little example models around to show them the kind of things that are possible, and we’ll have volunteers floating around to offer guidance.

The plastic straws have been used in some of our previous outreach work in a similar workshop, and after OHF we’ll be collecting them all up to make use of them in future programmes. We also intend to use them internally within the office for a competitive tower-building charity fundraiser!

Value of volunteering

This is our second taking part in Open House Families (previously called Archikids) although this is the first time we’ll have done the straw workshop at the event.

It’s one of a number of ways we like to volunteer around engineering education. Megan also organises engineering workshops for GCSE students, and I tutor at GCSE level for a charity called The Access Project, which aims to give children a helping hand towards getting into higher education.

We’ve also both assisted with AKT II’s technical studies programme for architecture students at the RCA.

We get a lot out of these sorts of activities: they say if you can’t explain something in simple terms then you don’t really understand it yourself!

In that respect we think activities like this are great for developing your ability to communicate ideas and really express them at a fundamental level, which to some extent is a skill we need to apply in our day-to-day work.

At a basic level it’s a nice feeling to see the kids enjoying themselves and learning about some concepts they might not have thought about before.

Thinking about how the world works

In our workshops with young adults at GCSE/A-level age it’s often about directly advertising engineering as a career path, but for the younger kids at events like Open House Families it’s a bit more about encouraging them to think creatively and take an interest in how the world around them works.

If that then leads to an interest in buildings and structures later on in life then all the better, but if nothing else it’s a fun and tangible way to get them making things and solving problems, which is what engineering is all about at the end of the day.

Additional information

Format:
Case Study
Publisher:
IStructE

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Case Study Education

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