After a very early start, the team prepared the Landie (our trusty towing vehicle, leant kindly to us for the tour by the Cambridge University Engineering Department) and our support vehicle with the few essential materials we already had, including card, hole punches, nuts and bolts and the like. A few quick phone calls and emails later to our host, the IIVI Form Campus, we managed to secure the colouring pencils, scissors, extra paper, newspaper and the rest required to complete the set for day. As if right on cue, four schools, the Ryde School, Carisbrooke College, Christ the King College and Medina College turned up in quick succession at our newly-set up stage and work area, all enthusiastic and still relatively dry despite the early morning rain.
After a quick fix of the projector, the microphone and the laptops, we gave a 10-15min introduction to all things CUER, from our affiliations to the sponsors we work with (including in particular Jaguar-Land Rover, ARM and Ecoisland, who all helped fund or provide equipment for the trip) all the way through to our experiences in Australia and the World Solar Challenge. Through the covers, one wheel of our trusty Endeavour could just be seen through the windows.
The students’ response to the first challenge we set for them was immediately encouraging. We introduced them immediately to a strip of masking tape, 20 spaghetti sticks and a marshmallow and told them to create the tallest, strongest tower possible to hold that marshmallow on a flat surface. We knew from anecdotal evidence that the best people to do this challenge were in fact pre-schoolers, so we hoped that the mental quickness and intuition of our 11 and 12-year old pupils would show them to be as good if not better than us in designing and building such a tower. And did they prove us right. Considering they were intentionally split up away from their friends, and gave them only 20 minutes, they demonstrated their now-essential interpersonal skills, their ingenuity and creativity in creating mini-marvels ranging from pyramidal structures to classical towers and even a cross between the Eiffel Tower and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. This is from using just spaghetti and tape for joints. For this effort they were rewarded at break time with a full viewing and sitting demonstration of Endeavour, our much-loved and much-tweaked solar racing and outreach car.
Next was our most experimental challenge. After being given 18 miniature solar car kits by the Isle of Wight Council, we decided that we had to test the general dexterity, logical mind and general engineering knowledge by giving them to the aforementioned groups of four to build – with no instructions. But their fingers worked like magic and within 10 minutes more than half of them had (sort-of) fully-functioning solar cars. With these new builds, we thought the best way to incorporate what we do back in CUER’S headquarters – using our knowledge and skills to advertise our cars to business and the general public, as well as actually build them – was to ask them to customise their cars and produce a poster. These would advertise the benefits of solar cars, sustainable engineering and their own mini-car projects during the day, which ended up with the almost-ubiquitous spoilers, exhausts and mock-KERS systems as well as some magnificent poster handicraft with just a few sheets of coloured card, felt-tip pens and some glue.
Our final challenge was one which we hoped would test all the skills they had learned during the day. With a morning showing students how certain shapes delivered different structural results and how the seemingly-obvious can very often be not so, our work appeared to have really paid off as we set them to work building a newspaper bridge, held together only with nuts and bolts. Within a flash, almost a dozen unique yet effective designs from the classic truss design (like Scotland’s Forth Bridge) to suspension bridges (albeit with slightly fewer ‘ropes’) and even giant cradles popped up. To test these, we decided to use the best and most-often used method of testing small-scale bridges – tin cans, to be precise, tin cans of mushy peas acquired yesterday. Even to our designers some of these designs looked like they could hold a lot of weight with a tweak or two. Eventually, a bridge embodying the best of truss-design bridges – which bearing in mind we were testing bridges only around 70cm long – could hold 13 cans, or around 4kg in the very centre, with what looked like almost nothing which preventing them from going straight through.
And in here lies the lesson we at CUER learned today. Our initial plans to find a suitable and enthusiastic place to tour in the Isle of Wight saw us within a matter of weeks backed by Jaguar-Land Rover finance, ARM goodies, Ecoisland expertise and Isle of Wight County Press coverage. They all hoped and expected us to deliver on our promise to inspire some students to enjoy doing the things we do day-to-day as engineers, advertisers and business people all rolled into one. And when we asked them ‘who, after today, would like to think about becoming about an engineer?’ we expected perhaps half a dozen extra hands to rise. But out of 40-odd students, we got at least 30 hands.
Get a group of enthusiastic, intelligent and ready-to-mould young students and give them a task to do, and they will do it, and do it well. If you try and remember how you saw the world from an 11-year old’s perspective, chances are that you would not have any real idea of how you are going to achieve the dream of becoming a pilot, a doctor, an engineer or whatever. But ask the 11 year olds we worked with today and they would surprise you. We will update you with all the action from the Years 9-11 edition later on.