I have just spent this morning running an “oil rig” building competition with visiting school children who are considering an engineering degree. The challenge was to build a structure to support a brick (the oil rig) 7cm off the ground with drinking straws and map pins (thanks to Andy Weightman for allowing me to steal this idea. ) The challenge proved surprisingly realistic with the real-world problems of buckling, three dimensional behaviour, connection failure and time-pressure all present.
Similarly, by attaching a “price” to the materials used it was possible to introduce the idea of efficiency into the exercise. There were several good rigs built but only one actually supported the (rather heavy) brick. Well-done to all who took part, who I hope learned something about what structural engineering is.