ASE Conference

Today I was at the Association for Science Education Eastern Region annual conference which was held at Stewards School in Harlow.  I was there in my capacity as Chairman of the Essex branch committee of the Institution of Civil Engineers and I was due to speak to delegates in the 1st breakout session from 11am to 12pm on the subject of the West Point Bridge Design Contest.  In addition – and with the assistance of fellow ICE members Steven Nuth and Laura Cockle – I was running a West Point Bridge design competition for students at Stewards School. ICE East of England Schools MDO Tom Shelley was also present and spent most of his time flying the flag for the ICE in the main exhibition hall.

The design competition went fantastically well.  We had 12 students from the school science club and none of them had used the WPB software before.  It was preloaded on the school server and we had ample PC’s in one of the school’s IT suites.  We needed to give very little instruction and the kids got straight down to it and loved it from the start.  The competition started at 9.30am.

We ran two competitions.  One for the cheapest bridge that worked and one for the most interesting bridge.  Working in pairs and individually the students quickly arrived at their cheapest bridges and moved on to designing their most interesting bridges.  This is when their creative flair started blossoming with some extraordinary and brilliant designs being created.

We finished the competition at 12.30pm and made our selections for the winners.  The most interesting bridge competition was so good we decided to award 3 prizes in that category.  The students then carried on using the software and even when I left at 3pm there were still some there enjoying themselves.  It was great to hear one or two of them enthusing and telling their parents about what they had been doing when they were picked up.

Students working on their bridges

The competition for the cheapest bridge was won by Luke Sams whose simple bridge at a low height above the river came in at $167,000.  This was excellent considering the best that anyone has done in the current US WPBDC competition is $136,000.  Luke takes home a book on Brunel’s tunnels under the Thames and an Amazon.com token for £10.  Special mention should also go to Tyler Hampson and Matthew Golds who were in front for most of the competition until pipped near the end by Luke.

Luke’s winning bridge design

The three winners in the most interesting bridge competition were Tyler Hampson and Matthew Golds who worked together and Jack Baldwin.  All the designs were superb and it was very hard to chose.  All three students took home Amazon.com tokens for £5.

Tyler and Matt’s bridge design
Jack’s bridge design

The presentation session went less well despite having spent a fair amount of time producing what I thought was a pretty good presentation to give to teachers. My presentation is online and can be found here. Part of the problem was that we were based in the ICT room that was on the second floor of a separate building to where the main activities were.

Dissapointingly, only 45 delegates had actually signed up to attend the conference and – we found out this morning – only two of those had signed up to attend our session on the West Point Bridge Design Challenge. 11am arrived and only one teacher turned up who was more interested in watching the students doing their designs and talking to them about it. As such I had no attendees to present to. I did run through the presentation briefly with the teacher and with Geraldine Wright (the school science curriculum coordinator) so it was not completely wasted.

Throughout the morning I did play various videos a number of times including the ‘Little DVD of Civilisation’, a video of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse (galloping Gertie) and a video of the installation of the A14 Milton Footbridge (which I was involved with a few years ago). I also showed a powerpoint with a number of photographs taken during the construction of the Millau Viaduct in France. All these were watched with great interest by students and adults alike.

Despite the disappointment of the presentation session it was a very successful event which I and my colleagues enjoyed very much. The enthusiasm of the students and the enjoyment that had from designing many and varied bridges made it a joy. Geraldine was extremely pleased with the student design competition and we have agreed to assist Stewards School at future events.

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