On Thursday November 14th 2019, E+M was invited to continue shaping the future generation of engineers by presenting on structural engineering at the Latin American Montessori Bilingual Public Charter Elementary School in Washington D.C.
To those outside of the construction industry, the subject of structural engineering is quite mysterious. Introducing your job to 4th and 5th graders has its own complexities. The goal of the presentation was to show these young students that they can understand and solve structural engineering problems even at their age and experience level. The challenge was to explain complexities using language and concepts that they were already familiar with.
The presentation consisted of images of buildings during construction, a short video of an ETABS model in motion, and a few sets of construction drawings to pass around. We discussed design considerations of gravity, lateral loads, and serviceability. And we discussed different building materials such as concrete, steel, wood and masonry. A comment and question portion of the presentation ensued. The questions were unlimited.
I was very surprised with how many important considerations were covered throughout the Q&A portion of the presentation. The first 30 questions whittled out what is the responsibility of the structural engineer relative to the rest of the design/build team. We had questions about contractors and sub contractors, owners, building uses, risk categories, forensics, fireproofing, fire walls, and fire safety, mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, interior design considerations, offset structural columns, bearing wall stacking, construction practices, and geotechnical considerations. By the end of this Q&A, I surprisingly covered more detail than I ever thought I would have had the chance to explain. Admittedly, it was very fulfilling to have had the opportunity to communicate in great detail how the construction industry functioned as a whole. After the Q&A, we had to move on to the design example.
For the final portion of the presentation, we pulled open Revit, and modeled a wood beam supporting a floor system. The students were tasked with calculating the load on the beam using a worksheet which walked them through the process. The kids split up into smaller groups and I had the chance to walk around and help answer questions about the calculations. Once the students had the load on the beam calculated, we opened up design software and sized an LVL beam that could support the floor joists.
Figure 1: The Revit model in which students took part in laying out a wooden frame floor system supported by two 20’-0” long beams
Figure 2: The worksheet used to walk the students through calculating the load on the 20’-0” beam
The group of students in Ms. Maisie’s 4th and 5th grade class could not have been a better audience. They listened, asked so many questions, and were generally excited to hear about what goes into building design.
Overall, I think the young students understood that they could do this job. I have a good feeling that at least one engineer will emerge from this classroom in years to come!
Written by: Jan Dokonal, E.I.T.