We are taking a break from our Simple Machines unit in honor of Engineers this week to learn more about what they do in celebration of National Engineers Week, Feb. 19th - 25th. As part of our celebration and exploration, we've watched a video entitled "The Sum of All Thrills" found on Discover Engineering's website about a group of three teenagers that visit the Innovations area in the Epcot Center at Walt Disney World. These teenagers work with a pair of civil engineers to learn more about the physics and science that goes into designing theme park roller coasters. The teens are introduced to kinetic and potential energy, and then given the challenge of designing a couple of roller coasters, one on a marble track, the other on Epcot's "Sum of All Thrills" computer generated ride.
After seeing a bit of what civil engineers do (or at least those that design roller coasters), the younger students are given a lesson in aerodynamics as they learn a some of what aeronautic engineers do as they explore how balloons react to the air around them. This has lead to quite a few discussions about airplane and fighter jet designs, and streamlining the cone to allow it to effortlessly slice through the air like a wedge. (Some of the simple machines unit coming in.)
Meanwhile, the fourth and fifth graders have been challenged to design the tallest freestanding structure possible in a given time limit using only the supplies they are given in a zip lock baggie (10 index cards, 6 paper clips, 4 small drinking straws) and a foot of masking tape. They were allowed to use scissors to cut the cards as needed (making notches to interlock with each other), but were not allowed to use the scissors to add to their structure (as part of their structure). They could not have the structure taped to the table (thus, freestanding) and were not allowed to get more tape. A few taller structures came down with the wind as the buzzer went off on the timer, to the disappointment of the teams building them. The tallest structure for the week measured 68cm, but included a 30cm antenna made from the drinking straws.
Celebrating National Engineers Week with the students was a great way for them to learn a little more about what engineers do, and the impact engineers have on our everyday lives. Many of the students in our school have close ties to engineers through their parents. To all the engineering parents (relatives and friends, as well), this post is for you. Thank you for all you do to make our world a better place to live in.
The following video was put together with clips from our week and images that celebrate some of the different engineering fields.