Thursday, February 19, 2015

Engineering for Children - Compression, Tension and Toilet Paper Tubes



The children have been doing a lot of building with the empty toilet paper tubes we have out this week.  Watching them experiment with different towers and techniques...


...I realized they were really working through their own sort of lessons on the forces of gravity, compression and tension.  For instance, they learned quickly that they could build a taller vertical tower if they added supports around the base...


...and after watching a BrainPop video on skyscrapers (which I innocently suggested they might enjoy) they realized the problem they had encountered while building pyramids, of having the sides push out and collapse...


...after the third or fourth layer of tubes were added...


...could be solved...


...by simply placing a sheet of toilet paper...


...between the layers of empty tubes...


...to act as girders...


...dispersing the compressive force of gravity on the structure.


In fact, even one layer of paper, between the first and second layers of tubes, was enough to stabilize the entire construction.


The BrainPop video I referenced above is part of a subscription service, though there is a free trial available for the site.  BrianPop does not reimburse me for recommendations, but I do recommend the site every so often.  It's one of the few subscription services we've found useful enough to renew year after year.  It is filled with short, educational, animated videos on a wide variety of topics, that come in handy for quick reinforcement of lessons just like this.

10 comments:

Natalie PlanetSmartyPants said...

I don't know what to be more impressed with - this activity or your collection of empty TP rolls. The towel part is fascinating - did they figure it themselves after watching the video or was it mentioned?

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

Natalie - They thought of the toilet paper after hearing about girders in skyscrapers. I actually thought we'd have to use tape, or something that would tie around them. It was surprising how well it worked.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for blogging your great ideas ... my children are 10, 8, and 4 and they school days become more interesting because of your great ideas. Thank you.

Angelic Scalliwags said...

Leah, I am so impressed. If only I was creative enough to create such a learning environment that you obviously do with ease, maybe our unschool weeks would be a little more successful. You (and your TP rolls) ROCK!!

Natalie PlanetSmartyPants said...

This is such a great discovery with toilet papers. I am tempted to try it here, but need more TP rolls :)

maryanne @ mama smiles said...

This is really fascinating! I had no idea toilet paper could make such a big difference! I'll have to try this with my kids.

Karin Huber said...

Wow! Only one layer- I wouldn´t have thought so!

Cait Fitz @ My Little Poppies said...

Hi!
I found you by way of Planet Smartypants. I had to come over and say hello because we're almost unschoolers, too :) Great page you have here. I, too, am impressed with the amount of TP rolls :)

Nicolas Connault said...

I think there isn't just compression involved in this case, but also the increased friction of the paper's fibre between the rolls. Without it, their surfaces slide against each other. If you add the friction with the compression, you end up with a stable foundation that doesn't roll around any more.

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

Hmmm...that makes me think of a couple follow-ups we could try. Thanks!