STUDIO’s Tuesday activities this spring are based around the Engineering Design Process. Through this curriculum, we hope to give youth experience designing solutions to engineering dilemmas, make it clear that engineering is not something that only happens in a classroom but something that can be applied to any problem, and give youth the tools and thought process to tackles problems in their everyday lives. Facilitating this curriculum has given me the opportunity to see how youth interact with engineering.
One thing that strikes me is the unique and novel solutions come with to tackle situations. One task I gave to the STUDIO youth was to build a one-foot tall tower using only marshmallows and toothpicks. Someone who has done this task, or a similar construction project before knows that using triangles is the key to building. During my activity the youth did not immediately recognize but instead approached the problem using a variety of different approaches. One youth placed a large number of marshmallows within the bounds of her tower’s base to help with stability. It was a great example of youth thinking outside the box! I would have never thought of using such an approach.
After this tower activity and a discussion or triangles as a vital support structure, we moved onto our popsicle bridge building activity. Our goal: design a model bridge that is able to support the weight of a person. In this activity we iterated the stages of our design principles. We identified a problem (in this case, I told them they needed to build a replacement bridge for the local West Seattle bridge), designed a solution (using planning sheets and sketches), and then prototyped our solution (the physical popsicle bridges). From the beginning it was clear that many of the youth had great ideas for how they wanted their bridge to look and function but making that idea a reality proved more challenging. It was a fascinating experience to watch how the youth adapted their designs to fit what was technically feasible. I think this also highlighted an important part of the engineering process, understanding how to work within the constraints of one’s materials and tools and design a solution around those.
The next project we’re going to be working on is the design of a water rocket that will be able to reach a high altitude while also being able to safely hold a cargo (an egg). I’m excited and curious to see what kind of solutions the youth will come up with to tackle this problem.