Red Bull Soap Box Derby

We went to the Red Bull Soap Box Derby, which was held (Aug. 23, 2014) downtown on Yesler Way. The course was deemed the steepest Red Bull has ever used. A bit of trivia: the base of Yesler Way used to be known as “Skid Road” because of how logs would skid down the road for the lumber mill.

Soap Box Course

I was hoping to inspire the kids to want to learn about how soap box cars are constructed. They were indeed enamored by the concept of these cars. Alas, the crowds and long wait time for the races to start diminished some of their enthusiasm. But the experience will serve as a good reference point the next time we come across some materials we can transform into a rudimentary car.

There were some preliminary runs to test the course. The Seahawks mascot, Blitz, took the first run. We were able to wedge ourselves into a small opening in the crowd on the upper course, so all we could see was two seconds of the teams as they zipped by.

Blitz Runs Course

Derby test run

We discovered later that Red Bull had set up large monitors so people could watch the races — it was easier to see the teams run the entire course via the┬ámonitors.

Derby monitor

Red Bull posted a few photos from the event. We hope to check out the next Standwood Camano Island Soap Box Derby, which is part of the All-American Soap Box Derby series of events.

Engineering Crazy Straws

Crazy Straws 1

When I was a kid, a “crazy straw” had a figure-eight loop and that was fun enough. Now, there’s the NuOp Design Strawz – kits that allow you to engineer your own crazy straw. You can find them online or at specialty stores. I found Strawz at my neighborhood grocery store on clearance for $6.50 per set (the original price was $10.95). What comes in the box are 44 pieces of long and short straws and connectors.

Crazy Straws 2

It was a no-brainer purchase – especially at a clearance price – for an easy engineering lesson veiled as fun. I purposely use the term “engineer” instead of “make” or “create” so that the kids continue to hear the word associated with the concept of designing and building solutions. To spur a little friendly competition, I told the kids that whoever had the best-designed straw would win a treat. It wasn’t necessarily a fair playing field since Shen’s fine motor skills aren’t as developed as Meilee’s. He started to pout (below) when Meilee finished constructing her straw before he did.

Cray Straws 3

But this presented an opportunity for me to encourage Meilee as the older sister to help her younger brother and to remind Shen that pouting doesn’t get the job done. They worked together to build Shen’s straw. And then they forgot that it had started out as a contest.

It’s a brilliant kit given that the kids have to think about how to join pieces together in a way that is not only crazy but functional. There is also physics involved: water sprays everywhere if the joints aren’t connected properly to the straws or, if a section of the straw is at an awkward angle, it could knock over a glass. (Yes, water spilled all over the table and the floor.) I imagine that you could hack a kit together using flexible straws. I might explore that with the kids to test their ingenuity.

Crazy Straws 4

Later, during dinner, I asked Meilee what she understood about engineering. Here was her response:

“When you engineer something, you think about how am I going to make this? What materials am I going to need to do it? When you’re building the shapes, it’s fun to learn how to connect the straws and unconnect (sic) the straws. There are different sizes of straws. The small straws help you in small places. The big straws help you in big places. You can make different kinds of things – like a sword. You can be capable of doing lots of things like a house of straws.”

Crazy Straws 5

I was glad she had an inkling, but I also didn’t hear her say something that indicated she understood the thought process behind engineering. She started to give me additional examples related to craft projects – things that weren’t necessarily focused on designing solutions – so I shifted the conversation to talking about how an engineer would approach the challenge of building a bridge across a river.

“An engineer would have to think about the distance across the river, right?” I asked. “And if it’s a highway, the bridge would have to support a lot of cars and big trucks. That would affect the kind of materials that the engineer chooses to build the bridge. If the bridge were just for people, the engineer wouldn’t have to use the same kinds of materials.”

“Logs and rope!” Meilee exclaimed.

Something clicked, but we’ll see what sticks over time. The logs and rope comment reminds me that we could use popsicle sticks to engineer a bridge. A project for another day.