They ask "Do we have to trade?" "Can we tear this up?" "What counts as a bridge" "What does look alike mean?" I ask "What's the first number with an 'a' in it?" "What column of the periodic table are Halogens?" "What percent of ocean water is salt?" These are the conversations happening during the ASE Midsummer Conference Activity.
As part of this internship, we are required to attend an all-day event for the Apprenticeships in Science and Engineering program (ASE) that is a part of Saturday Academy. Every year the group of Saturday Academy Interns get to put together an event for these 150+ amazing high school interns during their Midsummer Conference. The activity has to last about an hour and keep everyone engaged. It doesn't have to be a challenge or competition, but what is the fun in that? This year, we decided to make a bridge building race with a twist. We did not want to create your average bridge building competitions; we didn’t want to make it too easy for these high school students, so we decided to not give every team all of the necessary pieces to make a strong sturdy bridge. We wanted the students to need to trade for the pieces that they needed. We wanted to ensure that everyone was involved, so we added trivia questions. Since each of us are from relatively different STEM backgrounds, we compiled 32 questions; I tested them on my college roommates who had a fun time attempting to answer them. The concept of this challenge was dreamed up during our first week as interns. In the weeks that followed, the other interns and myself prepared bags with supplies, met with the ASE team weekly, perfected a script, made the most diverse teams possible, bought 25 one-pound bags of rice for weighing and ensured that everything was ready to go. Fast forward to the day of the Midsummer Conference. We had the students sorted into their teams; each had their own bag of materials and instructions. They then had five minutes to sort and collaborate within themselves. The next ten minutes were for trading with the other teams in their cohort. I received a great amount of questions regarding whether the students needed to trade, if they would have to use all of their materials, and many more. Soon it was time for trivia and building. The questions are weirder now. Their questions include "Can I take apart this VHS?", "How tall does a bridge have to be to be a bridge?", and "How are these being tested again?" Even questions are about bacteria, boiling point, and common data structures. Then the building is over and the college interns start to test the bridges. As it turns out, these high schoolers are better engineers than we are. We fit five pounds of rice on each bridge - nothing breaks. In a moment of improvisation, we grab 12-packs of soda to try to crush the bridges. We only managed to break one bridge. The rest stand tall holding at least five 12-packs of soda. The other interns and I are baffled by the amount these can hold. We have no choice, but to say that these high schools are smarter than we thought. Most of these students have never met before, but that did not stop them from besting the challenge that we had planned. These students proved to us that if everyone works together, we can create things that individually we would never be capable of on our own.