Middle school youths are discovering just how much weight a structure under a foot tall made of 1/8 inch balsa wood can hold and most are surprised that it can hold well over 200 pounds if it is built correctly.
The two classes of technology education students at Tucumcari Middle School are discovering just how tough the little buildings are by building them themselves. With no more building materials than a three foot length of the 1/8 by 1/8 inch balsa wood and some glue, the middle school students built small structure of no more than 11 inches or no less than six inches in height.
“It is to teach them the strength of specific designs,” said Technology instructor Charles Gallegos, “and how to go about creating these designs.” Gallegos said that some of the small towers held over 270 pounds of force pressing down on them in a specially designed test of their strength.
Once constructed and measured, the small balsa wood structures were put in the special press which was constructed out of a special frame and a trash can slowly filled with water. When the water weight reached the structure’s breaking limit, down came the water-filled trash can on the small tower.
Gallegos said he does the exercise with his two classes of Industrial Technology students every year about mid-November, but this year there was a slight change.
“In the past we built bridges and measured how much pressure it took to break them,” said Gallegos, “but this year we went to towers because ‘they’ (The Technology Students Association which holds annual national engineering competitions) are.”
The technology teacher also sponsors the technology club at the school which regularly competes at the national competition, “so this not only teaches students about structural stresses but it also helps the students who will be competing in this,” said Gallegos about the tower construction. The young engineers who built the mini-towers said they enjoyed virtually all aspects of the building from the first design which they had to keep within a budget set by their teacher to the final explosion of the structures as hundreds of pounds of pressure were put upon them.
“I learned you’ve got to plan more,” said Tucumcari Middle School student Adrian Priento about what he learned from the design, construction and destruction of the small towers. “You can’t just go at it.” Gallegos said in many ways the construction of the press to break the little towers was almost as complex as the construction of the towers themselves since the amount of weight it took to crush the towers had to be measured rather precisely.
That is why he came up with the design of a trash can filled with water sitting on a smaller can sitting on a frame that concentrated the weight of the water-filled trash can onto the small structure. “We started with sand, but it was too hard to work with and harder to weigh,” said Gallegos, “so we went to water.”
The teacher said while it was a bit messy, in the long run it was much better and a little water sloped out was easier to deal with than a quantity of sand.
“It’s a lot quicker,” said Gallegos. Most of the students contended the hands on lesson was more enjoyable than normal classroom work.
“Yeah,” said Ryan Fought of the task, “It’s fun and stuff…like, more fun and more exciting and stuff and easier I guess.”
Classmate Roshan Patel agreed with Fought but said he did see some point in it.
“It is useful if you want to be and architect or an Engineer,” said Patel.