Organising the content in Chapter One

Having reviewed the material posted so far and compared it to the original text, I think we can afford to break the chapter into few, longer pages. I propose five pages, with the following titles:

  1. Introduction
  2. Four motives for providing an education in engineering
  3. What are the attributes of a graduate?
  4. The changing nature of university generations
  5. The prior knowledge and experience of 21st century students

Once this content is live, we can test writing a series of blog posts about this content and associating it with the relevant page using the following tags: 1-1; 1-2; 1-3; etc.


“The Mudflapper…


“The Mudflappers have been in residence at Rock a Hula since its inception and provided fantastic fun tuition for thousands of novice swing dancers. They have our crowd laughing, lindy hopping and doing the charleston within 45 mins, which is no mean feat! As well as being great teachers for beginners, they always throw in a show to open with, and are truly fantastic semi-pros. Many punters look on in wonder, then in delight they are encouraged to try their hand (and feet) at the techniques themselves. Love ’em.” Jen Walke, Producer of Rock a Hula! (rock n roll, hula hooping and swing dancing event) – London’s “Standout 1950s night” (The Times)

Taking inspiration from the Transcontinental Railroad

Image, Grand Canyon Railway, Williams, Arizona, Sante Fe railway

A train pulls of the Santa Fe railway at Williams Arizona to join the Grand Canyon Railroad

As I tweeted earlier this morning, today at Think Up I have been working on Build Camp, a concept for a week-long hands-on learning event designed to encourage young people to take on a career in civil engineering. For some time now we have been proposing an event based around the idea of students designing and building their own railway in a week. Today we were looking at how to create a context for the event around which on-site role play activities can be built. Today’s idea was to use the construction of the first american transcontinental railroad as the context, for reasons explained in the following text, extracted from some my draft web copy for the soon-to-be-online Build Camp website.

Why the Pacific Railroad?
Learning about the construction of a railway line is an excellent introduction to the world of civil engineering because it embraces so many aspects of the discipline, including: planning and surveying: structural, geotechnical and fluid mechanics; construction management. This event is set in the context of the construction of the Pacific Railroad, the first railway to cross the United States. The construction of this pioneering railway line was led by a team of engineers operating at the railhead. Engineers were responsible for:

* Surveying and choose a route through the unknown territory ahead.
* Designing cuttings, embankments, bridges, dams, causeways and tunnels as needed;

* Sourcing local construction materials: fill for embankments; timber for sleepers; fuel for machinery;
* Overseeing construction works
* Organising the logistics of moving labour, materials and plant along the single-track line
* Establishing camps for workers, sourcing food, and paying wages.

These engineers were working in the unknown; it was 2000 miles back to headquarters, and so they had to rely on their own ingenuity and engineering judgement to solve the problems they encountered. By setting the role play for this event in the context of the Pacific Railroad we aim to harness that visionary and pioneering spirit, and demonstrates the potential engineers have to shape the world for the better. We are also providing a baseline against which the advances of modern railway construction can be illustrated.

At present we are hoping to run a pilot of Build Camp in October. Keep an eye out for updates on the Think Up website for more information.

Diary of a contact day

During my parental leave I am doing one ‘keeping in touch’ day a week. On that day, I deal with important queries on Think Up projects. Since my time in the office is very short, these keeping in touch days are an intense snap shot of lots of the stuff we are working on at the moment. Here are some highlights:

  • I was asked to put together a proposal for using web technology to help engineering students raise their levels of background engineering knowledge. Think Codeacademy meets Top Trumps, available through Workshed. I am particularly excited about this project because it will complement the work I will be doing at UCL as part of their teaching innovation scheme.
  • Today we finalised the detailed content of the Nuclear Island Big Rig. All the places on the event have now been allocated. We have been working on this project for over a year – it is fantastic to think that it kicks off on 1st July.
  • Following on from the sustainability teaching seminars that Think Up has been facilitating this year, I have been invited to speak at the Engineering Education for Sustainable Development conference in September.
  • We are gearing up to facilitate the next Imperial/Expedition Constructionarium week.
  • The lovely-sounding people at the Litmus Test got in touch to see if I would be the first engineer to perform at their show – I’d be happy to.

I’ve heard that becoming a parent makes you more productive in the office. So far, keeping in touch days prove this to be true.


Negotiating the lifts at Kings Cross

Pushing a pram, as is my new daily habit, has made me much more aware of the relative accessibility or inaccessibility of London. Today I decided the best option for step-free interchange was to be at Kings Cross, where upon arriving I was presented with the lift schematic shown in this photo. Step-free, no doubt – and that is an achievement in itself – but by no means simple. I had to help two other sets of travellers interpret the map as we processed around the station.

While I may criticise, the Underground is significantly more accessible to buggies than the Paris Metro, where there are simply no prams to be seen.

I am of course fortunate that my access requirements are such that, should it be necessary, I can carry the buggy down the stairs. But pursuing step-free access around London does cause me to try out new routes, and to discover bits of stations that I’d never noticed before (at London Bridge, in particular). Perhaps not very profound, but another example of how parental leave is giving me a new perspective on things!

Archive photos/early attempts at developing/les arcs

Ski lift, high contrast, les arcs

Probably the best module I studied during my year at ENPC was not engineering-themed – but photography. The module was run as an English language course: the subject of the lessons was photography, and the lessons were in English. Being a native English speaker I was not able to get any credits for the module, but I gained much more. I still vividly remember the magic of seeing images emerge on pieces of paper submerged in solution. In just a few short hours of teaching I learned somethings that have been much more valuable to me than the hours of lectures I sat through on other subjects.

These photos were taken on a weekend trip skiing at Les Arcs. Getting from Paris to the Alps by overnight train is easy by the way. The night train leaves from Gare d’Austerlitz, and arrives Bourg St Maurice, where there is a lift straight up to Les Arcs.

Babbling about Babel: penning a new routine for Science Showoff

I’ve just signed up to do a slot at the final Science Showoff to be held at the Wilmington Arms on Tuesday June 4th. I haven’t written any new material since January’s Structural Elements song, but the cogs are now whirling. The theme will be how an engineer would go about designing the Tower of Babel. A tall order, indeed.




English: Tower of Babel

English: Tower of Babel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)