PERTH - John Ireland enjoys putting students under intense pressure.
He just wouldn’t let up in the library of the Stewart School last week.
Well, letting up on their popsicle stick bridges, that is.
Ireland was on hand for an event at the school for National Engineering Month, “to get young people thinking about a career in engineering,” said Ireland during an interview between periods of smashing up bridges, “to see how much of a load they (can) hold before they blow apart.”
For this particular project, the lesson was “about making buildings and structures strong,” said Ireland, who lives just south of Smiths Falls, who is a member of the Thousand Islands chapter of the Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO). Similar events are taking place around the area, including Brockville, Wolford, Elgin, Oxford-on-Rideau, and Smiths Falls.
Ireland said he has seen for himself just how important early exposure can be to helping a child make a career choice.
“I grew up on a farm and on a farm you are always doing troubleshooting, always fixing things,” said Ireland. It also helped that, away from the fields, his father was a radio and television repairman.
“Engineering became a natural progression,” after an upbringing like that, he said.
While Ireland’s visit was a chance for kids to show off their building skills – or, sometimes, lack thereof, to be improved upon, and learned from – the importance of making structures strong and safe was being driven home that very same day at the launch of a provincial inquiry into the Elliot Lake mall collapse.
The PEO “is participating into the inquiry,” said Ireland. “The point is that engineers came forward and volunteered to assist with that…We want to be part of this entire exercise to put additional regulations in place, if needed, to make sure that this never happens again.”
Teacher Nathan O’Neill brought the project to the Stewart School for the first time this year from his old schools in Athens and Duncan J. Schoular Public School in Smiths Falls. The school bought 6,000 popsicle sticks – which were ultimately not enough to construct 85 bridges. All told, about 9,000 popsicle sticks were used.
“It’s great for the kids to see a real application of this stuff with professional equipment,” said principal Darryl Kelly.
A lot of the students were “very, very interested in it, and the kids have such stringent requirements,” said O’Neill of the 100-stick limit. “A lot of the focus was on planning. I had gone in and given them an overview. I gave them tips and ideas, but wanted to see what they could do.”
For older students though, “we let them research online,” but he did put forward one of engineering’s golden rules – “the wire triangle is the strongest shape.”
“Bridge building doesn’t fit into all grades,” admitted O’Neill. “But the science concepts do.”