Day 2 at the Sixth Form Campus on the Isle of Wight began with the fervent hope that the momentum and experience we carried from Day 1 could rub on our Year 9, 10 and 11 students. Turnout was event greater than before, with about 45 students turning up even earlier than expected, some of them visibly buoyed by what they had heard from their friends the years below them.
A slightly re-worked introductory presentation worked wonders as the students launched into the spaghetti tower challenge, creating some of the more imaginative of structures while deftly attempting to jig our newly-written rules (as all students should) to do some extraordinary work. A near-record was set in the 70cm region using just spaghetti and masking tape for joints, with (as before) no opportunity to spike their marshmallows or fix their towers to the table.
The solar car kit building test was greatly aided by the near-miraculous change in weather on the island, which while grey and miserable throughout the remainder of the day showed the sun in its full glory in the precise 20 minutes we needed it to during the morning. They were whizzing across the gravel race-track set up in the sixth-form playground at full speed, which as we discovered was surprisingly fast for a car using just a few square inches of PV solar cell and built within 10 minutes.
As a treat for their efforts, they were given a tour around Endeavour, which after a battery charge and a fixed left-rear tyre could in fact run at some speed for the first time on the tour. At this point, our apprentice engineers were joined by a discretely elusive yet charmingly supportive gentleman in the form of the island’s MP, Andrew Turner. His attempt at fitting into the car itself, however, left something to be desired, as even despite our gentle encouragements for him not to fully wedge himself into Endeavour, he tried his very hardest to fit his 6ft 1in, long-legged into a car which is designed to accommodate comfortably someone who should be rising barely to his shoulder.
After a well-deserved break to recover from the last couple of hours’ efforts, we threw them into the paper bridge building challenge with an added complication not faced by their younger compatriots: budgeting. After being given a carefully-rationed quota of materials, they were then told than any extras were widely available – but at a price. However, despite this additional challenge they still performed admirably, the best structure achieving the joint-best maximum load of any structure so far.
What we didn’t expect at all was that, from a group of 13-15 year olds, that the number of genuinely enthused and inspired people that were willing to ask us further questions even after we had finished was so high. Students even from backgrounds which included no scientific or other practical experience were enthused to the point of considering engineering or its variants as a possible future education or career option. Even from the previous experiences we have had when working with people who were in some way sceptical as to our methods or intentions and were eventually turned around, we were surprised. If we thought that what we did on this day could have encouraged so many people to consider doing what we do – or even looking at what we do – then we would have been happy to do this every day every day of the week. As for this particular day, even as we headed toward the back-end of our tour, we wouldn’t have wished to have done anything else.