At the beginning of the year, my son’s teacher asked us to save toilet paper rolls for them to use in the classroom. Apparently us parents responded in droves, because last week she asked us to stop sending them. So here I was with a bunch of toilet paper rolls, that, I guess, I would have to throw away. But then I had an idea. I could use those rolls to teach my son what I used to do as a job. I could use these rolls (and some other materials) to teach him about being a project engineer!
I wanted to come up with an idea that would be quick and fun, since he has the attention of a nat after a day at school. So I came up with a scenario I knew he would love!
Teach your kid to be a Project Engineer!
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Marvel Comics wants to build an amusement park, featuring all their super heroes. You work for Marvel as their project engineer, and they have asked you to build a Spidey Zip Line ride. Your job is to build the zip line, keeping the cost of all materials under $5, and finishing under 20 minutes. Below is a sketch of the design you are to use to build the ride:
Available materials and their costs:
I gave my son extra incentive, and told him he could keep the money remaining after material costs, if he completed the project in under 20 minutes.
He got to building!
First, he measured the length of one roll.
He found that one paper towel roll was 4.5 inches long. Then I asked him, how many paper towel rolls did he need to make 9 inches? He is just now starting to learn fractions, so he wasn’t really sure how to add 4.5 twice. So I approached it a different way. I asked him “What’s 4 plus 4?”
Me: What’s a half plus a half?
Him: A whole.
Me: Another way to say a whole is 1. So what’s 4 + 4 + 1?
Now he knew two rolls taped together were 9 inches long.
Next he tried taping two toilet paper rolls together, but was having trouble.
So I used this as opportunity to share something else with him I learned as a project engineer. I always worked with construction crews during the installation part of my projects, and while I understood the design of the equipment, I left the actual building of the equipment to the construction crews. I shared with him that the crews were both more trained and had more experience with the details of construction than I did, so I depended on their expertise to build the equipment. In the same way, he knew mommy had more experience with taping things together, so he asked me to tape the two rolls together. I told him as long as he continued to “lead” the construction, I would continue to help with construction as he needed.
Me: How much tape do you want me to use? Remember, you have to include the cost of tape in your budget.
I cut 4 inches of tape and taped the two rolls together. But the tape only covered have the circumference of the rolls. So he asked me to cut 5″ more of tape, and tape the rolls together.
After I taped the rolls together, he measured the “tower” to make sure it now measured 9″.
Next we needed to make the 18″ tower.
Me: So two rolls is 9″, right? Do you know what 9 + 9 is?
Him: (counting on his hands) 18?
Me: Yes! So how many rolls do you need for the taller tower?
Him: (thinking awhile) 4?
Me: Right! So what do you want me to do?
Him: Can you tape four rolls together?
Me: Sure! How much tape do you want me to use this time?
I cut 10″ of tape, and used it to connect two rolls again.
Me: Ok, so the tape over lapped a little. Do you want me to use more or less tape to join the next rolls together?
Him: No still use 10″. It makes it stronger.
Me: You’re right! It does!
I joined the remaining two rolls to the first two, and handed them back. He then measured to make sure the “tower” was 18″.
Next he set the two towers 24″ apart using a tape measure. He then pulled out the length of yarn he thought he needed. I measured the yarn, and noted how much the piece cost.
He was having difficultly finding a way to attach the yarn, so he turned to me again. I told him to cut small slits in the top edge of each tower. Then I slipped the yarn in the slits, and taped the yarn for security. I pointed out that he was using my experience again, but was still directing the project.
After the string was attached, he made sure the towers were 24″ apart.
Here is his finished zip line!
It looked great! The only problem was that it easily fell over because it was not anchored down. We talked about ways to make it stop falling down, and together decided to make a platform for each tower, and then tape the “platforms” to the table.
Here is our completed zip line ride!
Once we added up all the material costs, he came in 22 cents under budget! Unfortunately, it took longer than 20 minutes, so he didn’t get to keep the change. But he still had lots of fun!
What my son learned!
This really simple activity taught my son 3 things about my previous career as a project engineer:
- Managing to a budget and timeline: Every project I managed had a approved budget and project schedule. Going under budget was good, but you really had to explain yourself if you went way over budget. Keeping on top of the schedule of the project was also important. Not completing a project on time meant loss of production, and therefore money for the company.
- Relying on others’ skills: Just like him asking me to tape the rolls together, I often relied on the expertise of other people to ensure the project was successful. Managing a project thinking you don’t need anyone’s help is a recipe for disaster!
- Designing on the Fly: In a new design there are often things that are missed. As an engineer you need to learn to work with your project group to come up with a solution right in the middle of construction. It needs to work, be safe, and not add much to the overall cost of the project. Adding the platforms when we realized the towers were not stable taught my son to work as a team to improve the design on the fly.
Get your Guide to "Teaching your kid to be a Project Engineer"!
Get your own guide to help you kids learn the skills Project Engineers use to run successful projects!
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Looking for more ideas on how to teach your kids about engineers and engineering? Check out some of my other posts!
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