ICE help inspire the next generation to think civil engineering

Year 5 pupils at the Welbeck Primary School, Nottingham graduated with full honours in July from the school’s Children’s University Project supported by the Institution of Civil Engineers and Imagineering UK.

Young engineers testing their design skills with the Bridge Designer software.
Young engineers testing their design skills with the Bridge Designer software.

ICE East Midlands and Imagineering worked with the school to deliver a series of sessions covering civil engineering and electrical engineering over a period of five weeks to give the children experiences and challenges that would not normally part of the curriculum. The Science & Engineering module was just one of many supported by other providers to broaden the horizons of the children in Year 5. The success of all participants in the Children's University Project was celebrated at a graduation ceremony at the school on Wednesday 19 July.

As part of the Science & Engineering project, the pupils learnt about the role of engineers, and in particular Civil Engineers. They were shown how geometry is important in providing rigidity and support. The course ran over five weeks and the pupils were tasked with designing bridges on computers, constructing and testing paper truss bridges, building towers to withstand earthquake simulation and construct and test electrically powered buggies.

In the first week the pupils were challenged to design a truss bridge to set a budget using freely available software. All of the group were thoroughly engaged and showed great determination in designing a safe structure using appropriately selected materials.

This session was followed up by teams working together to build and test truss bridges using their knowledge of design. The children made tightly wound paper tubes that were then used to construct the bridge. Each bridge was tested by hanging weights from a central point until the structure failed. The strongest bridge withstood 6kg before failure!

Truss bridges completed and ready for load testing.
Truss bridges completed and ready for load testing.
Weights are carefully place in a bucket suspended from the bridge to load test the structure.
Weights are carefully place in a bucket suspended from the bridge to load test the structure.

The young engineers were then tasked with building towers from wooden blocks on a small round table which can be set to vibrate to simulate an earthquake. Once completed the structures were tested by the children to see how resilient they were to the effects of a simulated earthquake.

In the last two weeks of the module the children learnt about, and how to apply, simple electrical and mechanical engineering principles, led by Imagineering UK. Again as part of the input, the children were asked to consider the importance of structures and alignment and fixing of components. The culmination of this saw the children put their buggies through a series of tests and evaluating the buggies' performance and offering possible improvements.

Miss Eloise Burton, Class Teacher, added, "The children have really enjoyed the sessions and have gained so much from them. It was good to see them working so well together to overcome the problems they were faced with."

Some of the children commented at the end of the module:

Ebrima said, "When I am older, I want to become a civil engineer. I didn't know what a civil engineer was before Richard came to school and I think that this might be what I want to do when I grow up."

Yusuf added, "I have improved my computer skills and learned how to build strong structures. I really liked designing the bridges and making them. I didn't know paper could be so strong!"

Jack commented that, "I found it really interesting learning about all the different techniques engineers use to build stable structures. I loved building bridges – it was great to see how strong paper is if you fold it a certain way."

Jamiel said, "I found it really interesting to find out how bridges are built and what kinds of materials you can use to ensure structures are stable."

Richard Davis, ICE Marketing and Communications Executive and Regional Education Team Coordinator said, "Working with the staff and children of Welbeck Primary School has provided a fantastic opportunity for the engineering community to open the minds of our children to opportunities that lie beyond their school lives. Hopefully we have sown some seeds of inspiration."

"I am greatly impressed by the pupils' attitude and determination to succeed in the challenges they have faced over the course of the four weeks, they are a credit to the school."