Kids at Home with MPPL Category: Engineering

Maker Monday: Build a Braced Tower

John Hancock Center

Photo of John Hancock Center by Drew Hays on Unsplash

February’s STEAM at Home program featured Awesome Architecture and fun building activities. We learned that x-bracing (seen here on the John Hancock Center in Chicago) is one way that helps keep buildings straight and tall when wind blows on them. X-braces and shear walls collect wind forces and carry them to the foundation. Build your own braced tower at home with a few simple materials! Idea and images from Building Structures and Towers by Tammy Enz.

  • Supplies:
  • spaghetti
  • mini marshmallows (the book shows gumdrops, but we used marshmallows)
  • ruler (optional)

Instructions:

Break 4 noodles in half and make sure they are roughly the same length. Put marshmallows in the corners to connect them into 2 squares.

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Break off about 1 inch from 4 more noodles and use these to connect your 2 squares. What happens when you push on the tower?

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Add 2 noodles to one side make an X. Repeat on all 4 sides of your tower. Try pushing again. Now what happens?

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As the marshmallows harden, your structure will get even stronger. What other structures can you build?

For more books and projects that explore engineering, check out one of these STEAM Kits.

Harper College Experience Day

little girl painting a small pumpkin

Do you know what you want to be when you grow up? Harper College is having a month-long event to give students of all ages interactive and fun learning opportunities. Maybe this will give you some ideas about what you’d like to study!

Each Wednesday in October, a new activity will be posted and is designed for 3rd-8th graders. Here are some of the things you could learn about: 

  • Build a BristleBot
  • Clouds in a Jar
  • Make a Spooky Votive
  • Predator vs. Prey

If you’re interested in participating, you can REGISTER HERE.

Kits will be available to pick up from the Mount Prospect Main Library and South Branch, among other locations. 

For now, you can do your own Nature Scavenger Hunt. When you go for a walk outside, can you find:

  • Leaves from different kinds of trees? What kind of leaf is it? 
  • Birds and other creatures? Can you make a sound like that animal? Can you move like that animal? 
  • A seed from a plant? That could look like a white dandelion, a pine cone, an acorn, or a berry. 
  • Insects? How does the insect get around (flying, crawling, jumping…)? 

Maker Monday: Enchanted Engineering

Who knew that reading fairy tales could lead to engineering experiments?

Last month at our Zoom STEAM at Home event, we led kids through these fun building activities that were inspired by fairy tales. These projects are easy to do with stuff you probably already have around the house.

pencil bow and arrow

Robin Hood’s Bow and Arrow

Supplies: 2 popsicle sticks, (duct) tape, string, and an unsharpened pencil. 

You can experiment with different types of string and various lengths to see what works best. After you build it, place your pencil with the eraser on the string, pull back, and see how far your pencil goes! Just don’t aim at any screens or people please! 

The Three Little Pigs, Rapunzel, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears

For The Three Little Pigs, experiment with different materials to see what house is the strongest. You can use toothpicks, straws, LEGO bricks, or many other things you have at home. 

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For Rapunzel, try building a slide for Rapunzel to escape the tower. Our slide was made of toilet paper/paper towel rolls and tape. You can experiment with making the slide steeper so she slides faster, or more gradual so it’s slower. 

For Goldilocks and the Three Bears, try to build a bed that can hold the most weight (we used coins). Some ideas for materials are cardboard, bubble wrap, tin foil, and cupcake liners, but there are many things that would work for this activity. Once you’ve built your bed, stack coins and see how many it holds.

Have fun and keep building! For more activities to do at home, check out this page.

Maker Monday: Straw Bridges

Try making a bridge from common items and learn about what shapes work best with this project from the Museum of Science + Industry.

Materials

  • 35 non-bendy straws
  • Clear tape
  • Scissors
  • Meter stick or yardstick
  • 200 to 300 pennies
  • Small cup
  • Pencil
  • Paper
  • Two chairs or tables

Directions

Build your bridge using only straws and clear tape. Before you build, you may want to sketch your design and test out shapes to see which are the strongest. For example, when you tape straw pieces together to make a square, should you leave the center empty, or add more straw supports in the center?

When you are satisfied with your bridge, place it between two tables or chairs that are space at least 9 inches apart. Place the cup in the middle and add a few pennies at a time. Count the pennies and keep adding them until the bridge collapses. How many pennies did it hold? How did the bridge break? Can you change your design to make it stronger?

The Museum of Science + Industry explains what is happening:

Look at a steel or wooden bridge and often you will see triangle shapes making up most of the bridge’s support structure. These are called truss bridges. Triangles are structurally the strongest shape because they allow weight to be evenly spread throughout a structure, allowing it to support heavy loads. Truss patterns are used in other structures as well, such as roofs, radio towers, crane arms, and more.

To learn more about bridges and other exciting engineering, check out these books!

This Bridge will Not be Gray book cover

This Bridge Will Not be Gray by Dave Eggers: Available in print or through our e-library on Overdrive and Hoopla. Also available for MPPL cardholders as a STEAM Kit with Reptangles.

Construct It: Architecture you can Build, Break, and Build Again book cover

Construct It! by Jessie Alkire: Available in print or through our e-library on Hoopla.

Engineering-you-can-eat book cover

Engineering You Can Eat by Megan Borgert-Spaniol: Available in print or through our e-library on Hoopla.

Building-bridges book cover

Building Bridges by Tammy Enz: Available in print or as an audiobook on Hoopla.

Maker Monday: Create Your Own City

3-D city made of paper
Image by Foster + Partners

Be the engineer and architect of your very own paper city with activities from architecture studio Foster + Partners. Download and print templates to create your own skyscrapers, houses, and more. Color them and add details to give your city your own special flair. Young makers are encouraged to share their creations on social media: #architecturefromhome.

Engaging in engineering projects has so many benefits, including problem solving skills, fine motor skills, spatial skills, and innovative thinking. Read more about the benefits here.

For more fun learning ideas, go to MPPL’s Activities from Home page.