I was privileged enough to be asked to conduct a workshop at the Ohio State University Mansfield for a science camp geared towards middle school girls last wednesday (2011[july]27). I was asked to talk about Architecture, a career in Architecture, and ultimately bridges. The girls were then put into groups of four and given the chance to build a bridge of their own out of popsicle sticks, toothpicks, string, and glue. As it was intended to be a chance for the girls to work out a solution to the problem on their own, i was instructed not to give them too much direction, but rather to answer questions they might have and ask questions that would help them think about their solution.
To this end, i gave them some very basic information about forces, loads, and types of bridges. They were then to construct a bridge that would span 12″. It was interesting to see some of the different approaches and encouraging that some of the groups were willing to try some solutions that were somewhat daring. While several groups had some setbacks, several others came up with bridges that looked pretty sound (they were going to be tested the following day by a local engineer). I am not privy as to the test results yet, but am interested to know how they faired.
There were six groups. Of those six, three constructed variations on a truss bridge, one a beam bridge, one started out attempting a suspension bridge, and another an arch. The suspension bridge and arch bridge proved to be a bit too challenging, so they were eventually abandoned.
All in all it was a good experience and i would like to do it again should the opportunity present itself, though truthfully i would rather have the girls build something that explores spatial relations and materiality a bit more than bridges do.