The collapse of a structure can be the most fun part of a project. As absurd as it may seem, at least in structural competitions, we can say this without fear of making mistakes.
Structural competitions are a tradition in universities. There is a good reason for this, as they are fun experiences that play a significant pedagogical role in bringing theoretical knowledge into practice.
Here, we'd like to suggest Mola as a way to make structural competitions even more interesting, playful and challenging.
Why hold a structural competition?
The routine of studying structures can often be daunting. As passionate as we are about the topic, sometimes it's challenging to relate theory to practice and effectively visualize the physical phenomena and the behavior of structures in the real world.
A structural competition is an excellent way to put concepts learned in the classroom into practice. It increases interest in studying structures and develops essential skills for a professional career success such as teamwork, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving.
Besides, experimenting with models and challenging their limits in practice stimulates a structural intuition that is invaluable in professional life.
Learning through play
We cannot underestimate the importance of play as a means for learning, as Lego Foundation explains in its article "Learning Through Play":
"Research shows that different areas of learning are more interconnected than previously thought and that playful learning experiences can be particularly effective ways to foster deeper learning and develop a broad range of skills and an understanding of academic concepts."
A structural competition is a multidisciplinary experience that is fun, meaningful, socially interactive, actively engaging, and includes an iterative process. These are key features that make learning through play possible, as explained by Lego Foundation in their article.
"Evidence shows that engaging with the world through play is essential for learning early in life as well as for building the foundations for lifelong learning."
It's amusing to compete against colleagues, overcome challenges and, in the end, receive recognition in the form of an award. A structural competition can leave a mark as a deep learning experience and a fond memory of the academic years.
Why use Mola Structural Kits in your structural competitions?
There are many different structural competitions, with spaghetti bridges contests being one of the most traditional. Although it is a lot of fun to use this material, there are some limitations to its use as a structure learning tool.
Mola Structural Kits are designed with structural concepts in mind from scratch and are scientifically validated. Its behavior is very similar to a real structure, so it is possible to experiment and learn about stability, buckling, cantilever, and many more concepts.
In 2016, the PET Civil students from the Federal University of Juiz de Fora (UFJF) in Brazil were the first to run a structural competition using Mola. Since then, a few more Brazilian institutions, such as the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR), Federal University of Ceará (UFC), and Federal University of Uberlândia (UFU), successfully held Mola competitions. They replicated the idea, improved the formula, and received new and returning students eager to have more fun with structural learning.
Brena Oliveira, student and part of the organizing team of the UFC Mola MD Championship, helps to realize the benefits:
"We realized how interesting the competition is. In one of the phases, you have to classify [the types of] structures. However, students of the second period enrolled in our competition. The problem is that [in UFC's Engineering degree] you don't even learn the basics of structures in the second period. So, the competing students had to study previously to the championship, which was fundamental when they later arrived at the mechanics classes."
In 2019, the Brazilian Association of Structural Engineering and Consulting (ABECE) and Mola held together with PET Civil UFJF the first edition of a national-level Mola structural competition aimed at students of Engineering or Architecture courses.
Luara Batalha, Coordinator of Civil Engineering at SENAI CIMATEC, shares her experience participating as a team coordinator in the 1st ABECE Mola Challenge and the skills developed by students within the competition:
"Although we didn't win, we are very proud of the students and how they dedicated themselves to doing their best. We went through a training period in which they kept the kits and trained to assemble them as quickly as possible. The experience was very cool. These extension activities make students develop skills and competencies that are not 100% linked to class content but are extremely valuable professionally. We believe that these skills are important and that competitions help develop leadership, time management, empathy, and many other abilities."
How to run your Mola structural competition
Inspired by the competitions already held and based on the public notice of the 1st ABECE Mola Challenge, we put together a guide so you can create your Mola structural competition.
However, this is not a rulebook and does not intend to exhaust the topic. Each competition will have details related to the context of each institution. We are offering a collection of suggestions and ideas so that you can hold a Mola structural competition at your university.
Now, let's get into practice.
Structuring the teams
We suggest that the enrollment stage of the competition begins as early as possible to motivate students and allow them to get prepared.
Although it's recommended, students don't need to have previous experience with subjects that include the study of structures.
If students involved do not have experience, it's encouraged to form study groups with the support of Mola Structural Kits so they can become familiar with the basic concepts and characteristics of the physical model.
We advise that teams have 3 or 4 members, allowing effective participation and communication.
The elimination brackets are defined according to the number of teams registered. Here is an example of the brackets considering 8 teams registered. We'll use this arrangement as a reference to define the materials and activities from now on.
How many Mola sets you need depends on the planned challenges and the number of registered teams.
We are considering using 8 Mola 1, 8 Mola 2, and 4 Mola 3 for 8 teams. The variety of models increases the assemble possibilities, but it is also possible to run the competition with kits of a single model.
If you don't have as many Mola Structural Kits available, you can take turns. It's important, however, to limit the number of shifts to a minimum so that the wait time doesn't make students lose interest in the activity.
Below, we suggest activities and list the recommended kits per team in each challenge. We encourage adaptations according to the resources at hand.
Phase 1 - Identifying structures
Challenge: organization displays three structures assembled with Mola, and students have to classify them according to their degree of freedom (hypostatic, isostatic, or hyperstatic). The teams also have to make the theoretical model representation of the structure support types.
Materials: 1 Mola set to build and take photos of the structures for the test images. Here you can see the presentation created for the 1st ABECE Mola Challenge for reference.
Time limit: 10 minutes.
Scoring: 10 points for each correct answer. These points will be added to the score in Phase 2.
Classification: all teams advance to Phase 2.
Phase 2 - Assembling structures
Challenge: assembling a pre-defined structure in the shortest possible time. Design drawings are provided with visualizations of the top view, side views, and sections.
Materials: 1 Mola Structural Kit 1 and 1 Mola Structural Kit 2 per team.
Time limit: 15 minutes.
Scoring: the total time of 900 seconds (15 minutes) subtracted by the assembly time in seconds. For example, if the team takes 200 seconds, the score will be 700.
Classification: the 6 teams with the highest combined score from Phase 1 and Phase 2 advance to the next phase.
Phase 3 - Disassembling structures
Challenge: disassembling a pre-defined structure, removing as many pieces as possible (one piece at a time) without collapsing. The team chooses a member responsible for removing the pieces and delivering them to the supervisor.
Materials: 1 Mola Structural Kit 1 and 1 Mola Structural Kit 2 per team to build the pre-defined structure.
Time limit: 15 minutes.
Scoring: number of elements removed from the structure's initial configuration, assigning 1 point for each removed piece. If the structure collapses, the removed part that causes the breakdown does not count on the scoreboard.
Classification: the 4 teams with the highest score advance to the next stage.
Phase 4 - The largest free span
Challenge: building a bridge with the largest distance between supports. In other words, the largest free span. The structure must be designed to allow the passage of a miniature across the bridge deck and underneath it, perpendicular to the structure's longest axis. The groups can use as many pieces as necessary from the kits at hand for this phase.
Materials: 1 Mola Structural Kit 1, 1 Mola Structural Kit 2, and 1 Mola Structural Kit 3 per team.
Time limit: 20 minutes.
Scoring: the size of the free span.
Classification: the 2 teams with the highest score go to the finals. If less than 2 teams manage to complete the challenge, the team that succeeds will be qualified, and the others will have additional time to complete the activity until at least 2 groups can be eligible.
Phase 5 - The skyscraper
Challenge: in the finals, teams will compete to see who builds the tallest structure. This structure must also withstand 3 vibrations produced by a shaking table or by dropping objects of different weights on the surface where the structure is assembled. The organizing committee will define the intensity and time between vibrations.
Materials: 2 Mola Structural Kit 1 and 2 Mola Structural Kit 2.
Time limit: 20 minutes.
Scoring: the structure's height. If the structure collapses at the vibration stage, we suggest applying a penalty.
Qualification: the team with the highest score wins the Mola structural competition.
The prize plays a vital role as a materialization of the achievement made by the students. It's valuable that the trophies or medals are appealing and that each student can take something home after the event.
A cash prize is recommended but not required. If possible, it's also interesting to offer some reward that helps the students in their studies, such as books or maybe a Mola Structural Kit to study at home.
Did you hold a competition? Let us know!
We want to see many more students and professors creating playful experiences to study structures. So, if you run a Mola structural competition, let us know in the comments or send us an email. It will surely brighten our day and inspire more professors and students to create their events to encourage the study of structures worldwide.
If you want some additional information about Mola competitions and learning through hands-on activities, here are some helpful resources.
The public notice of the 1st ABECE Mola Challenge
The notice of the Mola MD Championship [In Portuguese]
Master’s thesis with the validation of the behavior of Mola model: "Modelo Estrutural Qualitativo para Pré-Avaliação do Comportamento de Estruturas Metálicas" [In Portuguese]
Lego's Foundation article "Learning Through Play"
Undergraduate thesis "Revisión histórica de una actividad e innovación docente en el ámbito universitario: Concurso de Estructuras" [In Spanish]