Wonderful Workshops: Structural Engineering

I have been a bit sick this past week, but that did not stop me from hosting an awesome Scientess class! I have to say, this one past one from Monday, October 17, turned out really well. Our theme was structural/civic engineering. I was inspired to do this topic after speaking with a bridge engineer and visiting her firm. I was fascinated with the work she did, and knew that building bridges out of Popsicle sticks was a popular STEM activity. So that’s what we did.

This week I only had 4 girls, and they were four that I’ve had consistently. None of the new girls from Columbus Day came L.

Once the librarian and I felt no more girls were going to show up, we began and jumped right into the activities. The first thing I had the girls do was to build a tower out of two pieces of newspaper (4pages total). I gave them scissors and told them to use as little tape as they possible could. We needed the table for the next activity and I also did not want their tower to be made up of more tape than newspaper. The other caveat was that the tower needed to stand (without any human help) for at least three seconds so I could properly measure its height. Some girls struggled with this, but in the end everyone ended up with a tower she was satisfied with.

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I have seen newspaper towers at the Camp Invention I volunteer at, and I built a paper tower in engineering class, but I also used PBS kids for the activity idea: http://pbskids.org/zoom/activities/sci/papertower.html

I had them finish up the towers quickly so we can move onto our next, bigger activity: bridge building. To begin, I read them information about bridges from Scientific America. I had two boxes each of 1000 popsicle sticks, one with a smaller and one with a big width. I also gave them 24 medium binder clips and 10 large ones. They also could use masking tape, packing tape, and scotch tape. I tried to be as hands-off as I could so they could make a bridge to fit the description I asked them: semi-decent looking, could support all types of weight, and could withstand an earthquake.

I was so proud of their bridge; it was able to hold up my Calculus binder and Spanish textbook separately, but could not hold them both up together.

Normally, the girls finish an activity is less than the time I planned but for the bridges they almost went into over-time! I had to stop them and told them I understood their plan so don’t worry about finishing it. I was disappointed because I had a lot of other cool ideas if they finished early, but am glad they at least enjoyed the activities we did get to.


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I got the ideas for the bridges from:




All the activities took so long; we didn’t even have time for a story about a famous woman scientist! That’s ok, though, because at the end of the workshop one girl who at the beginning in September told me she wanted to be a fashion designer, but now she is going to be a fashion designer and an engineer. To me, that little statement revealed I was at least making a little difference.

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