How do you inspire STEM students? Do you ever share a real-life story to get them to start thinking about problems to solve? When you travel do you ever notice really amazing feats of engineering? (Or is that just me?)
So, a few summers ago, we went to Charleston, South Carolina for a few days! It is THE MOST BEAUTIFUL and fun place to visit. I highly recommend that you spend some time there. Take a horse and buggy ride first and have your driver tell you the things you need to do.
In the meantime, I was captivated by things we saw that I tried to figure out. I mean, really, who looks at bridges and thinks about STEM…… I do!
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So, here’s what happened. We went to this fort and one of the things we kept seeing were these little metal tracks, like railroad tracks, only curved. It took a while (and our tour guide’s explanation) to figure out what these were. And then I was blown away. How on earth did people engineer that in the 1800’s?
So that made me take a closer look at everything we saw- as a feat of engineering. I went back through my photos just to see what other things I captured …. Take a look!
The Pineapple Fountain
This is the famous Pineapple fountain. Just think about how amazing that is. The water has to go through the statue in just the right way in order to spew out of all the little places and then make the perfect little water spouts.
Isn’t it gorgeous!
Look at the photo below to see the whole thing and all the spouts working together. Amazing.
It’s actually much larger than it appears to be. There were kids all over the place wading in the water at the bottom and playing. This is a little waterfront park with giant houses right across from the park.
And in the distance, you can see the bridge that was completely overwhelming!
STEM Idea: Using the Pineapple Fountain photos to inspire STEM students you could try a water challenge. We usually try Water Slides in 3rd grade, Water Towers in 4th grade, and Water Pipelines in 5th grade.
A Suspension Bridge!
We drove across this bridge when we first got to Charleston and then back and forth across it several more times. It is truly a marvel. The photo is showing only one of the cable sections. There are two. From a distance, those cables look like strings, but when we drove across you realize these are gigantic steel cables.
Take a look at the close-up photos below.
Even with those pictures, you cannot truly understand the size of those cables. Those are light poles beside them if that will give you some perspective. My first thought when I saw this bridge was, “Oh my gosh, I cannot wait to show pictures of this to my students!”
Yeah, I know, that is totally weird. But, I knew they would be so excited. It’s one thing to build a bridge from craft sticks and hot glue and quite another to see this marvel up close. It makes you appreciate those engineers that had this concept and then made it happen!
STEM Idea: We build Suspension Bridges in 5th grade very year!
Okay, this is the moment when I was blown away by how these cannons were engineered. First, of all, I thought cannons from the Revolutionary War or the Civil War were small. Y’all those are gigantic and weigh a huge amount. Certainly more than one person could push around.
So, how on earth did the soldiers move them to aim? Look closely at that photo.
Can you see those little curved tracks? That’s actual metal rails mounted into the ground so they could push the cannon wheels along the track to move them.
You can see the tracks in this photo, too. I thought this was truly genius and I could not wait to show these photos to inspire my STEM students.
What do you think we can build- using this knowledge?
STEM Idea: Catapults! That’s right. We experiment with the launching angles and then build catapults to fly the greatest distance or fly over a wall!
The Angel Oak Tree
Okay, I am guilty of buying those tourist guidebooks when we go places. You know, the ones that always have a page called “The Top 10 Places You Must Visit”! And this little tree was strongly recommended.
So, off we went, in pouring rain, to visit the Angel Oak Tree. This tree is in its own little park and the tree is not little. First, of all, it’s maybe 500 years old. It’s about 68 feet tall and the distance around the trunk is 28 feet.
That number seems little until you take a look at a tree in your yard. Our largest tree is about four feet in circumference. So, 28 feet is ridiculous. The spread of Angel Oak’s branches takes in 17,000 square feet. The branches sweep the ground on all sides. It is truly astounding.
So, how can we use this to inspire STEM students? Well, you are going to need to look closely. As we walked up under the gigantic branches I noticed giant nuts and bolts and then began to really look closely and found wires bolted to the branches and then bolted to lower branches. The tree limbs are so heavy that these cables are helping to hold them up. That’s pretty clever, but also the folks that came up with the right places to add the cables and bolt them together are pretty genius.
Then I noticed one more thing! A lot of the branches that are sweeping the ground have blocks of wood under them. Now, I am not sure why that block is there, but the engineers that helped this tree must have had a good reason.
Maybe to help alleviate the stress of laying on the ground. This made me think of a way to use the photo in class.
STEM Idea: What if you had this photo displayed and had students brainstorm the reason for those little blocks under the limbs? Wouldn’t this make a great brain-break or class-starter type question? In fact, what if you display a photo every day and let each team think of something from the photo that inspires them.
Alright, so how is a fort engineered? We actually visited two forts! Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter. We rode a ferry out to Fort Sumter and, let me tell you, approaching that island fort was an awesome sight. It is just so tiny and when you consider its history and what its purpose was, it is just mind-boggling that this tiny island and fort withstood assaults. But, it did. And a lot of it is still standing. Probably due to the way it was engineered and built.
Notice the arches in the photo. Engineers know that an arch supports itself with downward compression and will remain standing long after other things have crashed. Think about the arched bridges in Italy that are hundreds of years old and still function. So, definitely the builders of this little fort thought about how to get the walls to remain standing even during attacks. The buildings you can see in the photo that have fallen were barracks that were built in rectangular shapes and you can see what is left of them!
STEM Idea: Build a Simple Bridge. My resource about simple bridge designs includes drawings of arched bridges. Your students may want to try building one!
Now, one more thing and it’s not about STEM. It is about visiting Charleston. If you do decide to visit, trust me, you will love it! Be sure you get a guide book and try the restaurants listed on the top ten list of restaurants that are suggested! So good!
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