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Engineering Classes Prove Popular in Middle School

October 2, 2017 by Admin

MS Engineering: The First Month

The popularity of the middle school engineering program at Providence has really taken off this year; for the first time, we will be admitting eighteen students in both first and second semester! It’s our largest class size yet for this program, which is exciting. But what exactly, I hear you ask, are students doing in that class?

We kicked off the year with some pretty standard stuff. Newton’s Laws kept us busy for a little while, talking about how objects in this universe move and interact. The highlight of this unit would have to be the inertia demonstration. Remove one tablecloth very quickly from underneath a dinner set, and hope that inertia does its job! Ryan was a very cooperative test subject.

 

The students also started the year with some simple challenges, focusing on teamwork, speed, and intuitive design. How many textbooks can you hold up, at least five inches off the table, using only two sheets of paper and a yard of tape? By the way, you only have two minutes to plan and three minutes to build! The class record is 26, held by Josh and Pedro a couple of years ago, but hats off this year to Audrie and Kassy, holding 12 books six inches high. At 3.6 pounds per textbook, that’s 43 pounds!

 

Paul and Lily look on as Ella places her third book; unfortunately,
it was the straw that broke the camel’s back

 

The most recent challenge was to build a bridge between two desks. After learning some basic principles of structural mechanics (triangle rigidity and maximizing the second moment of area of the cross-section), the students set about the task. We always talk in terms of constraints in this class, and the various constraints were as follows:

Materials:

  • Only allowed to use LEGO beams from a provided parts list

Time:

  • Three days of class

Personnel:

  • Teams of two

Length:

  • As long as possible (maximize)

Load:

  • Must support wooden train tracks (static load) and a motorized train running across it (dynamic load)

Other:

  • Must demonstrate the principles of good bending structures that we talked about
 

After breaking into teams, the students quickly set about collecting their pieces, and sketching their designs. Our enthusiastic students snapped together beams and frames, doing their best to imitate the rigid triangular structures they had been shown.

 
 
Gideon, Liza, and Kaitlyn working hard!

Tensions ran high (no pun intended) as the heavy little locomotive crawled across the tracks. The length of the bridges varied widely, from the shortest at 30 cm (1 ft) to the longest at 99 cm (over 3 ft). But most importantly: would the helpless engine tumble into the chasm?

The little engine thought it could, and so did Dennis and Jeffry,
with their sharply defined triangles clearly showing

 

 

Audrey and Kassy almost lost their load, but everything held
together in the end!

 

 

Miranda and Evan held their breath as the locomotive crawled
across their creation
 
 
 
 

In fact, although we desperately wanted to see some disaster, not a single one of the bridges failed! This is a new record in the engineering elective, and perhaps a tribute to their collective wisdom and skill (or maybe to their teacher?).

 

The next challenge? Use their knowledge of torque and rotation to build a crane that can lift as much load as possible.

 

 
Kassy and Evan carefully plan their motorized crane
 
 
Ella applies the power of a protractor

 

Dennis and Paul take a break from the drawing board to pose
for the camera

 

Tully and Liza consider Mr. Meadth’s past designs
 
 

Stay tuned, and don’t forget to ask your students how the work is coming!

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