Engineering

Building Big with David Macaulay

Book cover: 'Building Big with David Macaulay'
Copyright: 
2004
Publisher: 
PBS/WGBH
Grade / Age level: 
Resource Type: 
Review: 

This set of five DVDs by artist/architect David Macaulay provides many hours of insightful entertainment and a great introduction to science and technology on a practical level. Each themed film - Bridges, Skyscrapers, Tunnels, Domes and Dams - provides an in-depth historical treatment of the particular structure, interesting stories and overviews from famous structures, and basic scientific principles involved in each project.

The set features lots of great location shoots with David Macaulay narrating interesting stories and pointing out details of each site.

To give you an idea, "Tunnels" covers aqueducts and water-carrying tunnels of Ancient Rome, early canal and train tunnels of the 19th century (particularly in England and the U.S.), archaic and modern methods of tunnel digging (particularly under rivers), issues involving tunnel safety (both during the project and during use afterwards) with a special emphasis (in all areas) on the building of the Channel Tunnel in the 1990s between England and France. Each video also includes a "Building Small" segment and pamphlet so that families can tackle simple science projects at home that demonstrate principles of architecture.

Our family has really enjoyed these movies - from the four year old all the way up to Mom and Dad. The material is substantial, but easy to understand (particularly with the excellent use of computer graphics and artistic sketches).

I would recommend parental supervision with young children, at least for the first viewing. There are a few things that might be scary for little ones, such as a spooky introduction to the Tunnel show and some photos from an airplane crash in to the Empire State Building that might be a little disturbing. There are also some points in other movies that would be worthy of discussion, such as the environmental issues that come up in the Dams movie. Those are all the "sticky" parts I can remember at this point. I am hoping to view them again soon and will add to this list as needed. Overall, I consider the series to be very worthwhile and enjoyable.

Additional notes: 

Set of 5 DVDs or Videos (approximately 1 hour each)

Review Date: 
10-29-05
Reviewed by: 

Engineering the City

How Infrastructure Works: Projects and Principles for Beginners
Book cover: 'Engineering the City: How Infrastructure Works'
Author(s): 
Matthys Levy
Richard Panchyk
ISBN: 
1 556 524 196
Copyright: 
2000
Publisher: 
Chicago Review Press
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
132 pages
Subject(s): 
Review: 

Reading Level: Ages 9-12

I must admit that this is not a topic in which I am particularly interested. I'm very secure knowing that the water will be available when I turn on a tap or that the bridge I'm driving over will hold me.I'm not sure if I want to know what happens after I flush a toilet or where the garbage goes. That being said, this book helped me to understand these mundane things using terms that are easily understandable, describing activities that encourage further learning, and showing pictures that are clean and clear and make their point.

This book would make a great secondary resource for high school level physics, engineering or civics courses in that it helps define and explain how the things we take for granted work -- why there are different bridges for different applications; what the water table is and why it's important; ways and means of transporting citizens; and many other topics. The simple line-drawn diagrams and illustrations ease understanding of some of the more technical information. Published by Chicago Review Press, this book is supposedly for 9-year-olds and up. I think, unless your middle school student is very "into it", this resource would be better suited to high school students. Some of the activities are a bit blah or extremely elementary, but taking into consideration the subject matter, the activities do help illustrate the concept or principle described in the accompanying text.

Chapters include: water, transportation by water, irrigation, different ways of transportation, trains of all types, different styles of bridges, wires/telephones and wireless communication, plumbing and sewers, refuse disposal or reuse, and pollution from acid rain, global warming and water pollution. This book would make a great text for a co-op class of high schoolers; the projects done in a group setting with a bit of competition thrown in. For instance, to illustrate the concepts from the chapter on different styles of bridges, a bridge-building contest using the designs described would be great. This book would also be suitable for ideas for science fair projects.

Review Date: 
10-29-05
Reviewed by: 

Our Amazing Bridges

Publisher: 
Poof Slinky
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

This kit is a nice hands-on addition to a study of Roman history, architecture, or engineering. The kit provides all the materials need to build a Roman arch bridge, a suspension bridge, and a truss bridge.

The Roman Arch bridge starts with instructions for mixing your own voussoirs (the curved arch pieces) using the provided molds and casting compound. This was a little tricky and our first attempts came out too dry and crumbly. Fortunately there was enough material to cover a few mistakes, so we tried again. The second time we had good results (a real-life lesson in persistence) and building the bridge itself was a snap.

We also built the truss bridge, which as you can see from the photo was sturdy enough to support several little Matchbox cars. The kids had fun painting the landscape base with the paints (included). We even filled the river bed with water for a nice touch of realism when the paint had dried.

We haven't finished the suspension bridge as we only have the two towers completed so far, but those went together fairly easily.

The kit includes: plastic landscape base, paints, glue, and brushes, bridge parts, casting compound, sandpaper (for smoothly the finished voussoirs), a 48-page architecture book that covers a bit of the history and engineering involved in bridge building, and easy-to-follow instructions.

Additional notes: 

Bridge-Building Kit

Review Date: 
3-27-2007
Reviewed by: 

The Art of Construction

Projects and Principles for Beginning Engineers and Architects
Book cover: 'The Art of Construction: Projects and Principles for Beginning Engineers and Architects'
Author(s): 
Mario Salvadori
ISBN: 
1 556 520 808
Copyright: 
1990
Publisher: 
Chicago Review Press
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
160 pages
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Reading Level: Ages 9-12

The Art of Construction (originally published in 1979 under the title Building: The Fight Against Gravity) is one of the finest examples of books that help children understand principles of science as applied to real life situations - in particular buildings and making sure that they stay up in spite of gravity and natural disasters.

Children are introduced to important concepts like "tension" and "compression" with simple hands on exercises to help understand and remember them. Most chapters include a somewhat-more-involved construction project to teach these principles (and have a lot of fun in the process). Numerous illustrations make concepts and clearer and aid in understanding the building projects.

The text is very engaging and easy-to-understand. We've found it ideal as a read-aloud with a group. Our co-op has been using it somewhere in the 2nd to 4th grade range, although it could certainly used by much older students (all the way through high school would be reasonable). The engineer dads in our co-op have been very impressed with the book and the concepts the children study.

The chapter titles are as follows (and give you a little glimpse of the content and style):

  • From Cave to Skyscraper
  • Building a Tent
  • What is a Beam?
  • What do We Build Structures With?
  • The Floor of Your Room
  • A Steel Frame...Made Out of Paper
  • The Part of the Building You Don't See
  • What Tornadoes, Earthquakes and Changes in Temperature Can Do
  • How to Fight Tornadoes and Earthquakes
  • Ropes and Cables
  • Sticks and Stones
  • Strings and Sticks
  • Shape and Strength
  • Barrels, Dishes, Butterflies, Bicycles Wheels and Eggs
  • Balloons...and Back to the Tent

Here are a few random sample paragraphs to give you a sense of the style and substance:

"If you had one of your friends put your hands on each other's shoulders and move your feet away from each other, you will become a full arch and feel compressed by each other's weight. But if your shoes slip on the floor and you begin to slide apart, the arch will collapse. Its ends must be firmly anchored to prevent it from spreading apart." (pg. 15)

"The best way to understand how the frame of a building works is to build one. A good model of a steel frame can be built with paper, provided we first build the separate elements of the frame: the columns, the beams, and the floors. A column should not take too much floor room, but must be strong enough to carry the compressive loads without buckling under them. A column buckles, that is, bends under compression along its axis, if it is too thin. Take a plastic ruler, stand it up, and push downward on it: there comes a point when the ruler will bend out." (page 39)

"The purpose of a building's structure is to guarantee that the building will stand up under all the loads and forces acting on it: the weights, the pressure of the wind, the forces due to temperature changes, and, possibly, the shaking caused by earthquakes. The builders want to make sure that the building will not collapse, and they hope it will not even be damaged, since in the first case it may kill people and in the second it may be costly to repair. They also want to make sure that the building will not move around. If a house were to slide down the slope of the hill it is built on, or if a skyscraper were to be toppled by the wind, the buildings would have failed their purpose, even if their structures might sometimes ed up undamaged." (page 57)

This is one of the books that I want to be sure each of my children have a chance to study sometime during their school years. Highly recommended!

Review Date: 
10-29-05
Reviewed by: