The years at the university are of most importance in the life of an engineer. The knowledge acquired impacts all activities carried out from then on. But with time and experience, many established professionals look back and see the classes with more perspective, identifying gaps they had. Naturally, ideas to improve teaching arise and they wish to make the experience of the new generations even better.
The Amigos da Poli Endowment Fund makes it possible for former students to take a step beyond their reflections. Through this initiative, they can participate in how the university teaches engineering through donations that enable improvements and foster innovation at the Polytechnic School of the University of São Paulo (USP), one of the most prestigious Engineering Schools In Brazil.
In 2020, through the approval of the project proposed by Professor Dr. Valério Almeida to the Amigos da Poli fund, USP received 60 structural kits evenly distributed between Mola 1, Mola 2, and Mola 3.
The project expects to, directly and indirectly, benefit around 1000 students and 10 professors per year. The goal is to expand the pedagogical tools to help interpret the behavior of structures. Also, to make possible the didactic requalification of the Strength of Materials laboratory of the Geodetic Structures department.
Professor Dr. Henrique Lindenberg Neto, a member of the Advisory Board of Amigos da Poli, believes this acquisition will bring a significant impact on the disciplines of structural mechanics in all courses at Poli and the College of Architecture and Urbanism of the University of São Paulo (FAU):
"Students will have a very efficient tool for understanding how structures behave. Even students who won't work directly with structures, such as computer and chemical engineers, will forever keep the fundamental concepts of the qualitative behavior of the structures learned through Mola."
Marcio Sequeira (3rd from left to right) and USP's structures-related courses professors.
The acquisition of 60 Mola Kits allows an even more hands-on, creative and dynamic approach to teaching structures.
The project proponent, Professor Dr. Valério Almeida, explains how they intend to make use of the kits:
“Since Mola is a qualitative model, the idea is to show the deformability, to show the types of support and their reactions. We want students to effectively learn and have direct contact with everything we explain in class, on the board, or a slide. This acquisition is extremely important for us, to effectively make them participate, to use their hands.
We'll create labs outside the classroom to introduce them, to make them set up projects and after that design plans and visualize everything three-dimensionally."
Integration activities, workshops and competitions: how Mola has been used by USP
In 2021, when the recommendation was the social distancing for the universities due to the pandemic, Poli started using kits as a didactic tool in remote classes.
The Mola Kits were used to record videos of 2 to 3 minutes to demonstrate the basic concepts covered in class, such as the difference between flat and spatial models, the definition of hypo, iso and hyperstatic structures, bracing systems, etc.
The videos show a step-by-step guide of each example, making a qualitative comparison of its deformed configuration for a specific type of action relative to what was obtained using analysis software.
Through online classes and the course's virtual platform, it was possible to teach more than 220 students in the first period of the course.
At the same time, Mola Kits were available in the Civil Engineering library so the students could practice in their spare time.
The Mola Structural Kits also were used to welcome students to Poli as part of the 2022 Freshman Reception Week program, marking the complete return to face-to-face activities.
After an opening event made to integrate the students, they gathered to participate in a workshop held by Márcio Sequeira, founder of Mola. In addition, there was a structural competition that awarded the winning group with 4 Mola Structural Kits, one for each member, to keep their studies at home using their own sets.
Professor Dr. Valério Almeida talks about the event:
"I think Mola is very important to this event we organized here because we managed to attract this student who is not so interested in structures and make him or her able to playfully learn about structures, to be interested when we talk about bracing, static models, core walls, etc."
For Bruno, a first-year undergraduate student, the activity served as an introduction to the area and further ignited his interest in structures:
"For me, this event already helped establish what we will work on because I'm starting and I know almost nothing. The activity also motivated me to seek more because we are still discovering what the course is and the structural study is a subject of civil engineering that interests me."
A few days later, there was another event, bringing together students at FAU, where Márcio Sequeira held two workshops as part of USP's efforts to integrate the courses of Architecture and Design.
As the in-person activities return, the professors are planning lectures to demonstrate concepts using Mola Structural Kits.
Besides, students will work in groups within the course program. Each team will create a project that includes constructing a model with specific characteristics, such as minimum span, pillars, cantilever size and floors. This activity will involve the participation of a class monitor who will help with their projects. At the end, the students will make a report to present the model with scale plans and images regarding the project.
The use of structural kits at Poli and FAU demonstrates how these playful activities, incorporating physical models into the daily teaching of structures, deepen the concepts taught in class. Professor Dr. Leila Meneghetti from the Structural and Geotechnical Engineering department of the USP Polytechnic School explains further:
"Physical models play a very important role in understanding the phenomena to which structures are subjected. The physical models help the students feel structures and perceive their behavior through the imposition of loads and during experiments.
Mola represents very well the phenomena of deformation in the beams, bracing and the types of connections such as fixed and hinged. This is very good because these are hypotheses we use in calculation that can be represented physically."
What do you think of how the University of São Paulo uses the Mola Structural Kits? Would you like to try something similar at your university? Tell us more about it in the comments.