Learning with LEGO:
School-University Partnership (SUP) for Earthquake Engineering Education
The Learning with LEGO event conducted in the spring of 2000 and 2001 at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) has been wildly successful as an outreach activity, which exposes K-12 students to basic engineering principles and the university setting through an exciting and challenging shake-table competition.
This annual event has led to an active exchange of ideas regarding education and outreach involving a broad range of earthquake engineering professionals in both academia and industry. Furthermore, the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center (PEER) has provided in-kind support through the time contribution of key PEER Education faculty and staff at UCI.
The event is held annually as part of the University-wide Open House, termed "Wayzgoose," and April's Earthquake Awareness Month. The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering hosts more than 800 students from the SUP target schools (previously identified by the University) to a structural engineering shake-table competition. The goal is to increase student awareness and curiosity about earthquakes and engineering by challenging them to construct a building model using LEGO products. Each group is provided with the same design problem and broad guidelines discussing size requirements, and the factors needed to make the building structurally sound. Students are also encouraged to consider the development of their project from the perspective of a building owner, architect, engineer or contractor. This will enable a discussion of the social and economic factors that are considered for any new building project. This creative endeavor results in 50-60 different models, which are subjected a ground motion recorded during the 1994 Northridge earthquake on the shake table in the Structural Engineering Test Hall (SETH) at UCI. The students are grouped according to grade level (K-5, 6-8, 9-12) and visit the campus in four groups, of 200 to 250 throughout the day. Students are encouraged to participate in other open-house activities.
The top four student groups, based on their overall score for the event, including their response to the essay question, oral presentation, model performance, sportsmanship, etc., win the grand prize of an outing to a Southern California theme park. All participating groups receive educational prizes related to earthquake engineering. The LEGO kits given to the students are theirs to keep for future projects.
In order to insure the success of this project from start to finish, a teacher-training workshop is held in early February. Each teacher/mentor is required to attend the half-day workshop at UCI to learn about the LEGO-technic components and some basic engineering concepts to help guide their students throughout the construction process.