Published On: Sat, Feb 18th, 2017

Robotic Challenge, Slime Making, Rocket Balloon Race and More at NBM’s Engineering Family (and Friends!) Day

I read somewhere recently that girls are a long shot to become scientists, engineers, anything STEM-related, not because of an inability to do those jobs, but because of a lack of interest.  And that lack of interest isn’t because they’re simply not interested, it’s because they don’t get as much exposure or encouragement in those fields as boys do.

Well, that makes my job a lot easier.

This year we return to the Engineering Family Day at the National Building Museum, bringing a couple of Najwa’s friends from school.  And indeed, they took an interest in all the activities, not looking at them as a boys thing, but rather something different, something interesting, and perhaps, something they might want to learn more about.

Family Engineering Day at National Building Museum
Dayla, Alani, Najwa
With all the commotion around them, you’d think they’d be a bit overwhelmed, but once Dayla said she had some snacks to share, they had a seat, ignored the noise, and almost acted like no one was around while they enjoyed their treats.
Najwa, Alani, Dayla

The first activity was the Play-Well TEKnologies Lego-inspired robotic challenge.  You had 30 seconds to construct something on this Lego-built vehicle that ran on tracks.  The two Lego vehicles will charge at each other, the goal being knock the other one off.  And 30 seconds isn’t a lot of time.  Najwa and Alani snapped a couple of pieces on the platform of the vehicle, and everything in me started to tell them they weren’t thinking clearly about the challenge when they put a tree in the middle of the vehicle.  A tree!

Fortunately, 30 seconds really isn’t a lot of time, because the other team didn’t fare much better.  At the end, the two vehicles stood each other up, ending the robotic challenge in a tie.

Najwa and Alani building Lego-inspired robot at Family Engineering Day at National Building Museum
Najwa and Alani building Lego-inspired robot at Family Engineering Day at National Building Museum
Najwa and Alani building Lego-inspired robot at Family Engineering Day at National Building Museum
It’s a tie.

Next was a photo booth.  Here, the kids could “Look Like a Civil Engineer.”  They donned engineer gear, including blueprints, and took some photos on a green screen.  The image was then superimposed on a background and we have three little civil engineers.  I’ll have to scan the print they gave us later.

Najwa at Family Engineering Day at National Building Museum
Look Like a Civil Engineer

AECOM, a global engineering firm, gave a demonstration of what happens when you replace trees and grass with a new shopping plaza and parking lot.  Because of the runoff, it creates a rush of water that floods a river, putting homes in low-lying areas at risk.  The demonstration shows how building a pond or area where water can collect near, or sometimes underneath, the surface lot can collect the water and help control the flow of water downstream.

The demonstration was a bit high level for the girls, but they did understand one simple concept — build your house on high ground.

The girls choosing a cube with a little challenge inside. Even we adults had a hard time solving them, but they made noise when shaken so they took one anyway.

There were these flask-looking things with a liquid in them that was also pretty interesting.  When you cupped your hand at the bottom, the heat from your hand created pressure that made the liquid flow up through the tube to the top.  When you cupped your hand on the other end with the bulb where the liquid was, the liquid then flowed back to the other side.  Gravity had nothing on this pressure generated by the heat of your palm.

One of the more popular booths was creating slime.  The magic ingredient was borax, mixed with a liquid [perhaps it was water?] in a little baggie, give it a few minutes, and you have yourself s wad of slime. Kids like slime.

Najwa, Dayla and Alani making slime
Making slime at NBM
Najwa and Dayla playing with their slime at Family Engineering Day at National Building Museum
Najwa and Dayla playing with their slime.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had an activity where the kids could build a windup toy.  Just a few paper bowls, some string, and of course a lot of stickers.

There were several exhibits that the girls stopped by, though the content may have been a bit over their heads.  over my head.  One was Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission with some videos explaining “water works.”  The video looked like they were explaining how they build sewer systems, I think.  Maybe.  The girls didn’t care.  There were free earphones to listen to the video, so to get the earphones, they watched the video.  And it came with a pencil.

Tekla Research Inc. was there showing kids how to make “The Flying Tube.”  You took a strip of paper, about the size of a standard book marker, taped it into a circle, and tossed it a certain way to make it do something.  I guess fly.  Even those at the booth seemed to not quite get it, so I knew the kids definitely weren’t going to get it.  I’m guessing by the object spinning it creating pressure imbalances inside the tube versus outside allowing it to fly or something, but the kids lost interest too quickly.

Dayla apparently loves balloons so when she saw ASHRAE’s “balloon rocket race,” off we went.

We walked around some more, visited a few more booths, headed upstairs but they didn’t seem too interested in the museum’s normal exhibits, so we headed out to grab a bite to eat at The Green Turtle.  As I sat there and watched them be six year old girls, I just wondered how many of these events does it take for anything to stick for them to at least take engineering as a career serious.

They’re six, so there’s plenty of time left, with plenty more events to go, to find out.  Their choice of course, but our responsibility to give them the exposure to these options.  I’m looking at the calendar for the next event already.

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About the Author

David Gaines

- David Gaines is a Washington, DC, resident transplanted from North Carolina whose dream career was a newspaper writer but settled for the recruiting industry and simply blogging about whatever thoughts crosses his mind.

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