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Making Math a Hands-on Experience: Building Model Cranes at Templeton STEM Program

As a part of the Templeton Secondary School's STEM Program, Grade 11 and 12 students recently designed, drafted, built and tested load-bearing model cranes.

Looking not unlike a steampunk skyline, the cranes were set up in the woodshop, where the teams made final adjustments and reinforcements.

The Goal: Design and build the crane that bears the most weight"� before breaking.

Students were given a set of parameters and allowable materials (wooden rods, sheets of tin, tape, glue, and string) and over the course of a month they created intricate design plans and mini-models before the big test day.

"In time, these experiences can turn mathematics from a feared subject into a way to express what you intuitively understand," says Mike Hengeveld, STEM instructor at Templeton. "Students are starting to discuss their successes and failures in a way that makes it obvious that they have a shared language: engineering. It's really exciting."

Senior students Milos Rakovic and Sean Lam had the most successful design, holding over 40x the weight of their own crane before collapse.

Hengeveld adds that hands-on projects like this help make complex concepts and rather dry textbook material more relevant and tangible for students.

"Static equilibrium and the fundamental principals of structural engineering come alive in projects like this. In a typical textbook, the sterilized style of clean questions and carefully constructed outcomes are safe and without the challenge of the unknown or the test of reality. Setting up a spreadsheet to calculate the forces on each element of a design helps students understand how changes in design propagate throughout the structure. Constructing a sheet metal boom and twisting it in your hand to feel its resistance to torsion stimulates a much broader understanding of the subject," he says.

To view photos and a short video about the project CLICK HERE

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