Engineering at Providence: The First Few Weeks

As we step into the 9th day of classes, I’d like to give an update on all things engineering at Providence. With eighteen high schoolers in the Academy, fourteen middle schoolers in the elective, and three different classes between them, there’s a lot going on!

In the high school, we talked about how all technology is an amplifier; that is, it takes the output of the user or the designer and magnifies it–for good or for bad. Technology in and of itself cannot create, and it is not inherently good or evil. The responsibility is on the user or the designer to exercise wisdom and virtue, so that their technology is amplifying for good. Lofty thoughts!

One historical amplification of human effort and creativity occurred with the widespread implementation of the waterwheel in medieval Europe. The waterwheel could be connected via a crank and connecting rod (or a cam) to convert continuous circular motion into reciprocating linear motion. Did I lose you? Take a mental break and watch Sarah Jane and Aaron demonstrate…

Imagine using running water to power a system that can bounce something back and forth over and over and over again. You can crush gravel, pound pulp to make paper, stitch cloth, saw wood… the possibilities are practically endless!

The process can also be reversed, as shown by Tys and Caleb below. This system is what’s happening inside your car’s engine, with pistons moving up and down (linear) to make a central drive spin (circular). It’s no exaggeration to say that modern industry depends on this simple setup.

David and Todd also came up with an impressive cam system, complete with a tiny weighted hammer on one end.

David and Todd show off their tiny industrial device

Samy and Jakob designed a sideways system that imitated the kind of action that would be used for sawing a piece of wood. The long white piece moves in and out horizontally as the wheel spins.

Samy and Jakob with their sawing machine

Did I mention that all of this was done by the students themselves, without any help from me beyond describing what the goal was?

Ben and Alena with another crank-connecting rod machine

Students have also been getting into some CAD work (computer-aided design). Kylie is brand new to the world of CAD, but after a couple of coaching sessions by Sarah Jane, she is turning out models with the best of them. She also learned the hard lesson that 3D printing is not a foolproof process…

But you can always try again.

And sometimes you just end up with a piece of modern art.
Over in the middle school elective, we began with our traditional opening challenge–record of 26 books still held by Josh and Pedro from a couple of years ago.
Constraints:
  • At least 4 inches / 10 cm high
  • Three sheets of paper
  • 1 metre of tape
  • Freestanding (not attached to the table)
  • As many books as possible!
Cameron and James look on as the pile grows
One central cylinder–strong but not stable
Mr Meadth also showed the principle of inertia–that objects want to keep doing exactly what they are currently doing. A cardboard tablecloth is not the very best thing for this, but the students seemed to get the idea, with some help from Christine.


Note the heavier cast iron teacup staying perfectly in place. The salt and pepper almost did, but as Dylan pointed out, the higher centre of gravity made it more difficult despite their inertia wanting to stay in place.
That’s a taste for now of all that we are doing. Coming up this month: playgrounds, battle bots, earthquake-proofing, trigonometry, and more!
630 E Canon Perdido St, Santa Barbara, CA 93103, USA

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