In the first week of March, a team of engineers from Arup’s Newcastle office visited Gosforth Central Middle School to offer their Year Six students (and Years 3 and 4 from Archibald First School) an insight into the life of an engineer. Fun fact: Ove Arup – the founder of the engineering consultancy firm Arup – was born in Newcastle in 1895. Arup has designed numerous projects around the world, including the Angel of the North, Sydney Opera House, the London Olympic Aquatics Centre, the Institute for Transplantation at Freeman Hospital, and Kingsgate Bridge in Durham.
During each of the eight two-hour sessions, the pupils worked as a team to construct, test, and then dismantle the ICE’s (Institution of Civil Engineers) cable stayed bridge. The impressive 12 metre span of the bridge meant that a large open space was required, and so the school hall was transformed into a construction site for the duration of the activity. Accordingly, site safety rules had to be followed and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) used.
After a brief introduction by the Arup team, hard hats, high-visibility vests and protective gloves were fitted, and each class split into two teams and began work on each side of the ‘river’. The first task was to attach all the cables to the A-frame at both sides of the bridge; the teams had to work out which cable linked to each ring and then securely attach the cable. Next, the Arup Engineer ‘cranes’ lifted the A-frame into place and two members of the team tightened a set of bolts at the bottom of the A-frame to allow the frame to stand upright without support.
With the first steps completed, it was then time to start building the deck. The team split into three groups – ‘scaffolders’, ‘joiners’ and ‘deckers’ with one student taking on the challenging task of quality control. The students had to work as a team, with the ‘scaffolders’ preparing the supports for the ‘deckers’ to lay their pieces of bridge deck down, and the ‘joiners’ preparing the links for the next piece of deck to be moved into place. This required a lot of communication, and awareness of where other members of the team were so that large pieces of bridge decking could be moved into place. The students really stepped up to this challenge – helping each other out and guiding each sub-team through their respective job. Once this task had been completed, each student took one end of one of the cables attached to the A frame and had to work out which part of the deck it needed to be attached to. Once everyone was in the correct place, all the cables were attached to the deck and tightened, lifting the decking up off the scaffolding and completing construction. With the bridge built, and scaffolding removed, the final stage was testing; with one class volunteering their two brave teachers to go first. Luckily for them, the great construction skills of their class allowed them to get across the bridge safe and sound! After everyone was happy that the bridge was safe, the students proudly took turns to test their creation individually.
This STEM activity was a great success and helped to make the students more aware of the work of civil engineers and their contribution to society. It may also have helped to inspire and motivate younger students to take up a career in science or engineering field. One really important lesson for one class was realising that the cables were integral to holding the bridge up, they were not just there to make it look good, as they originally thought! The teams from Arup had a great time building the bridge with the students, and answering questions about bridges, buildings, and engineering in general – hopefully we have inspired some of the students to become part of the next generation of engineers!