Advanced Engineering: Community Design Project

We’re in the fourth week of school now, so it’s a great time to unveil our Big Idea for the 2016-2017 school year. The Advanced Engineering group, comprising Tys, Aaron, Sarah Jane, Kylie, Jake, and Caleb, have been given a momentous task to accomplish.

From left: Jake, Caleb, Aaron, Tys, Mr Meadth, Kylie, Sarah Jane,
and a Pacific Gray Whale

Drum roll, please…

They will be working on a year-long project to design and construct a play structure for the Providence Lower Campus!

Most of these students already learned to do CAD last year, creating models of orphanages, Mars habitats, and small houses. This was all done from a purely “design” perspective, focused on aesthetics and interest alone.

Sarah Jane and Jake showing their CAD model for an African orphanage last year

By contrast, the point of this year’s work is to understand structural engineering: materials science (just when will that piece of timber break?), loads and stresses (how much tensile stress is that chain carrying?), column behaviour (when will a long thin supporting column buckle?), and so much more.

So, after making a design that is interesting and aesthetically pleasing and fits its environment, the students will bring their new skills to bear on their structure, which will enable them to select material types, choose thicknesses, add triangular structures, etc. This will be far more math-and-physics based than last year’s work.

But for now it’s all fun and games. We’ve been researching nearby playgrounds…

…appreciating local artwork…

…performing structural tests on candidate materials…

…speaking on location with the all-important client, Mr. Knoles…

…getting inspiration…

…critiquing ideas…

…and getting it all down on paper.

This week also marks the submission of a grant to a local nonprofit to help fund this project. The students wrote this grant themselves, and will be waiting hopefully for the response. Stay posted for more updates on this exciting work!

(photos by Rodney Meadth and Tys vanZeyl)

Engineering at Providence: The First Few Weeks

As we step into the 9th day of classes, I’d like to give an update on all things engineering at Providence. With eighteen high schoolers in the Academy, fourteen middle schoolers in the elective, and three different classes between them, there’s a lot going on!

In the high school, we talked about how all technology is an amplifier; that is, it takes the output of the user or the designer and magnifies it–for good or for bad. Technology in and of itself cannot create, and it is not inherently good or evil. The responsibility is on the user or the designer to exercise wisdom and virtue, so that their technology is amplifying for good. Lofty thoughts!

One historical amplification of human effort and creativity occurred with the widespread implementation of the waterwheel in medieval Europe. The waterwheel could be connected via a crank and connecting rod (or a cam) to convert continuous circular motion into reciprocating linear motion. Did I lose you? Take a mental break and watch Sarah Jane and Aaron demonstrate…

Imagine using running water to power a system that can bounce something back and forth over and over and over again. You can crush gravel, pound pulp to make paper, stitch cloth, saw wood… the possibilities are practically endless!

The process can also be reversed, as shown by Tys and Caleb below. This system is what’s happening inside your car’s engine, with pistons moving up and down (linear) to make a central drive spin (circular). It’s no exaggeration to say that modern industry depends on this simple setup.

David and Todd also came up with an impressive cam system, complete with a tiny weighted hammer on one end.

David and Todd show off their tiny industrial device

Samy and Jakob designed a sideways system that imitated the kind of action that would be used for sawing a piece of wood. The long white piece moves in and out horizontally as the wheel spins.

Samy and Jakob with their sawing machine

Did I mention that all of this was done by the students themselves, without any help from me beyond describing what the goal was?

Ben and Alena with another crank-connecting rod machine

Students have also been getting into some CAD work (computer-aided design). Kylie is brand new to the world of CAD, but after a couple of coaching sessions by Sarah Jane, she is turning out models with the best of them. She also learned the hard lesson that 3D printing is not a foolproof process…

But you can always try again.

And sometimes you just end up with a piece of modern art.
Over in the middle school elective, we began with our traditional opening challenge–record of 26 books still held by Josh and Pedro from a couple of years ago.
  • At least 4 inches / 10 cm high
  • Three sheets of paper
  • 1 metre of tape
  • Freestanding (not attached to the table)
  • As many books as possible!
Cameron and James look on as the pile grows
One central cylinder–strong but not stable
Mr Meadth also showed the principle of inertia–that objects want to keep doing exactly what they are currently doing. A cardboard tablecloth is not the very best thing for this, but the students seemed to get the idea, with some help from Christine.

Note the heavier cast iron teacup staying perfectly in place. The salt and pepper almost did, but as Dylan pointed out, the higher centre of gravity made it more difficult despite their inertia wanting to stay in place.
That’s a taste for now of all that we are doing. Coming up this month: playgrounds, battle bots, earthquake-proofing, trigonometry, and more!

Middle School: Intro to Engineering

Our high school Academy provides a robust four-year program for any high school student who wishes to apply… but what about the younger grades? It is easier than ever for elementary and middle school students to get a handle on engineering and science concepts, both in the classroom and even at home. Along with our established science classes, Providence meets this need with the middle school elective: Intro to Engineering.
This semester, the Intro to Engineering class is following a space exploration theme. Within that framework, the students will explore the history of space travel, structural engineering topics, sensor/motor robotics technology, navigation principles, and coding. One of the first mini “challenges” given to the boys and girls was to design a Mars habitat–all within fifteen minutes!
Students outline their design prior to sharing it with the rest of the class
Presenters opened the floor for questions after their presentation
From there, they looked at an overview of space travel, beginning with Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon. The last 100 years or so of space exploration were described, culminating in the incredible achievements of 2015: the flyby of Pluto by New Horizons, the Philae comet lander, astronaut Scott Kelly committing to a year on the International Space Station, and much more.
Today, the class completed a hands-on exploration of trusses. A truss is a linked system of thin, light members, that preserves high strength and rigidity for very low weight–highly favoured by space engineers the world over! Our students built their own truss with the classroom LEGO kits, and then made predictions as to which of their truss members were in tension or compression. They replaced the tension members one by one with pieces of string, proving their guesses were correct.

Two of the boys show how tension members in a truss
can be replaced with string
These explorations will pave the way for the eventual design and construction of autonomous robotic systems at the end of the semester. Plenty more projects to come before then, and we’ll keep you posted!