Engineering Smarts Amsterdam Style 

A shift when teaching science this year is to incorporate more engineering based lesson. As part of the new science standards, engineering plays a larger role in the way science is taught in the classroom. With each topic in science, there is an engineering component that accompanies it. 

One thing that I love about incorporating engineering is how it goes hand in hand with inquiry based learning. Inquiry based learning puts students in the drivers seat. Students use information taught in lessons to create solutions to a problem posed to them. 

Travel has been a huge inspiration as I plan engineering lessons. The more places I go, the more things I see that inspire me. It is interesting to see how people from different places come up with solutions to problems they have. Two of my favorite solutions to problems I saw this summer came from Amsterdam. 

The first great idea, wooden clogs. 

Stylish and problem solving!
I know you’re probably thinking, wooden clogs, really? They’re just shoes. But really they are so much more than that. They are the shoe that solved a problem for farmers working long hours in the wet fields. 

Much of The Netherlands is reclaimed land from the water that surrounds it. This made working in fields a soggy problem. That’s where the wooden clog saved the day. Paired with warm woolen socks, the clogs could keep water out, had a little bit of height, and lasted longer than shoes made of other materials. Genius! 

Clogs hanging to dry out before wearing.
Clogs have been a staple for farmers for a long time.

My sister and I took a tour of a clog factory. Not much has changed over the years. It was fascinating to see the clog machine in action spitting out clogs in no time at all. Just reflecting on this experience has inspired me to break out my clogs to wear to school. 

The next brilliant idea I learned about in Amsterdam, the hook that protrudes from the gable of most of the homes I saw. 

Anyone who has lived in an old home in Boston, might understand the struggle of getting furniture up to a second or third floor apartment. There are the narrow, winding, staircases and small door frames. Let me tell you, those old features don’t hold a candle to the tight spaces of Amsterdam homes. Walking up to my the third floor AirBnB was like climbing a spiral ladder, only worse. 

Rather than tear down old buildings to build a whole new building to get a couch to fit up the stairs, the homes in Amsterdam are instead fitted with a hook at on the outside by the gable. This allows people to create a pulley system with rope to hoist large items up and in through windows. What a smart idea! On one tour of the city I took they cautioned visitors to remember to look up to see if things are being brought into homes. 

Hooks are the perfect addition to these narrow homes.

These are both great examples to share with students how people thought creatively to find a solution to a problem. In the case of the hook system for Amsterdam homes, it is also a perfect example of simple machines being used in everyday life. Engineering and science is all around us. It’s amazing how travel can connect to so many things we teach in school. 


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