Del Mar Hills students test their engineering prowess


Sixth graders from Del Mar Hills Academy got a taste of what it would be like to be a structural engineer during a recent contest at UCSD.

A few weeks prior to the competition, UCSD structural engineering students visited Del Mar Hills Academy to give them a rundown on the basics of construction and a glimpse of what architects do on a daily basis. They also gave the youngsters K’nex toy pieces to construct buildings to present on competition day.

On Nov. 19, the day of the Structural Engineering Competition, 15 groups of sixth-graders in teams of four rotated through four stations.

At one they were interviewed by a UCSD student about their building and quizzed on their knowledge of plate tectonics and earthquakes.

At another toured campus and its structural engineering labs.

There was also a break station where students had lunch and played games, and finally a station where their buildings were put on a “shake table” to simulate an earthquake to see how their K’nex buildings would hold up.

Rewarding for all

“I think it’s an awesome project, and I think the (UCSD) students here are rewarded just as much as the students that come here,” said Theresa Blaszkowski, a junior majoring in structural engineering who helped judge the event. “It’s a lot of fun and I hope we do it for many more years to come.”

For the project, students were given a scenario in which a fictitious client wanted to build a tall steel office building in downtown San Diego near an active fault. Each team was given the same amount of K’nex pieces and instructed to construct a building at least 22 inches tall and with a floor no larger than 12-by-12 inches.

Do the math

In addition to constructing their buildings, the sixth-graders were given approximate real-world costs of each of the toy pieces and were required to add up the total cost of the building.

They were also had to calculate the number of square inches of floor space, complete a scale drawing of the building and another of one of the floors.

At the end of the day, awards were handed out for structural engineering (awarded to the building that was best able to withstand the simulated earthquake) and architecture, and for the most impressive construction drawings and interview.

An overall award was also given for the teams that judges felt maximized all areas.

Watch the shake

Student Ben Lawson said he enjoyed the project and learned a great deal from it, but added, “It’s more fun to watch your buildings get destroyed,” referring to the shake table.

“They absolutely love this project,” said Nancy Swanberg, the science specialist at Del Mar Hills Academy. “This type of hands-on learning is really effective and draws the kids in and engages them in learning.”

The Del Mar Union School District first participated in the project three years Other participating schools in the district this year were Torrey Hills, Ocean Air, Ashley Falls, Sycamore Ridge and Carmel Del Mar.