4th Grade Days (E-Week 2014)

During National Engineers Week this quarter, February 18-21, we hosted 4th Grade Days. 4th Grade Days is an annual event which exposes fourth graders in the San Luis Obispo area to engineering. Over 400 students participated in 19 different classrooms throughout the week. During the visit, Cal Poly student volunteers talked about different types of engineering and ran an activity in which the students designed and built a bridge with toothpicks and gumdrops. The challenge was to build the strongest bridge with as few materials as possible. The students were separated into groups of four or five and given five minutes to design their bridge on paper. Then, each group received twenty gumdrops and fifty toothpicks and began building their bridge. Once time was up, we calculated the cost of their bridges as $15,000 minus $100 for every unused toothpick and $500 for every unused gumdrop. Finally, the bridges were stacked with weights until they fell down. Through these restrictions, the students invented creative designs and gained an idea of the types of challenges engineers face.

This year, we tried to involve the elementary school teachers more by sending them a video with a short lecture for them to teach their students before our visit. Many of the educators did an excellent job introducing their students to bridges. Many of the students knew about triangles being strong shapes and the need for cross supports. Overall, 4th Grade Days was very successful and introduced many fourth graders to engineering. One student exclaimed, “I loved making the bridge that looked like it could go in Candy Land,” and another summed up the activity best when they said, “We got to use food and toothpicks to make a bridge and it allowed us to work as a team.”

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