A Dome Stays Strong
A Dome Stays Strong
Finding a Solution
Nolan and his family grow vegetables in their backyard to donate to people in need. Unfortunately the greenhouse they grow the food in has collapsed from snow and strong winds. Nolan wonders if there is a way to stop this from happening again.
“What if we built a fence to help block the wind, or put poles inside to hold up the roof?” he thought. Then Nolan remembers reading about domes at school. Maybe he could replace their greenhouse with a geodesic dome. A geodesic dome is a round structure. Its frame is made up of triangle shapes.
These four books are an expansion of Crabtree’s “Be an Engineer! Designing to Solve Problems” series. (Reviews of the original titles can be found at https://www.umanitoba.ca/cm/vol23/no39/beanengineer.html). The format is similar across all the books which use two cartoon guides to point out how to use the books and which have lots of pictures and sidebars to break up the material. Each book starts with a child in a realistic situation wondering how to solve a specific problem and then explains what an engineer is and the engineering design process using that example. The process is then broken down showing how each step can be applied to the problem to find a good solution. There is also an instance of failure in design and a brief summary indicating that following a good process can avoid disaster.
Every book also includes a simple model activity to tangibly introduce the concepts. Finally, there is a glossary and some suggestions for finding more information. The book references include other series by Crabtree as well as some by DK (Dorling Kindersley) and others, all at an appropriate level. The websites are particularly interesting; some have suitable educational material and lots of photographs while others include videos and games to make learning more fun and interactive. There is also a Crabtree Plus website linked to the books.
The original books in the series referred to a bridge, skyscraper, dam and tunnel. There are supporting materials for teachers (or parents) available online for each of these subjects. Presumably Crabtree will add more information for these new books. It seems that this series is intended to support curriculum requirements regarding the engineering design process, with the different types of structures having been chosen to provide students with subjects that will interest them. Much of the information in the books is the same as the books are more about the design process than the type of construction.
Crystal Sikkens’ A Dome Stays Strong reveals that domes are an interesting topic and that there are many types, and the book includes some examples with which most people will be familiar. Familiarity is important in that children can be more easily drawn into a subject if they already know something about it. The book’s problem, creating an inexpensive greenhouse that will survive the elements in winter, is interesting, and the solution is a dome. It would have been nice if the author had suggested a number of kinds of domes as being possible solutions although geodesic domes can arguably be considered to be the best type for this kind of application. There are good pictures of both geodesic and other types of domes, including sports stadia. In addition the suggested websites include many more examples and much more information on domes and their types.
The section on design failure is two pages on the U.S. pavilion at the 1967 World Expo in Montreal with one picture from the Expo and another of the dome burning. Best of all, the activity is to build a geodesic frame using nothing more than play dough and toothpicks. Students might need some help regarding how to attach the triangles to create the dome, but this is a great exercise in understanding the principles of design and testing.
While the “Be an Engineer! Designing to Solve Problems” series may be designed to fulfill curriculum requirements, the books at least have lots of ideas and examples to interest the reader. It is sensible to start each book with a problem that may be familiar to introduce the concept that problems can be solved using a process and that engineers are involved in that process. Perhaps engineers are given too much credit for the undertaking as many other workers will be involved at every stage of the creation of the house, tower or other construction, but that’s not a big problem as that information can certainly be learned in other ways at other times.
Science is such an important part of our modern life that anything that can aid in leading children to a science career is welcome, and especially in the early grades where just to know that such a career is possible is a start. This series introduces critical ideas that make engineering sound interesting and like something they would want to do when they grow up.
Since much of the material is repeated in each of the books with some variation, parents probably would not want to purchase the entire series for a home library but would rather buy the one that is the most interesting to their child. However, all four of these new additions to the series would be useful additions to the previous four in a school library as they would offer more opportunities for students to choose a topic of most interest to them.
Willow Moonbeam worked as an engineer in the testing of gas turbine engines for 10 years before becoming a professor, teaching math to technicians and technologists and then in business programs. After returning to university, she now works as a librarian in Toronto, Ontario.