Posts Tagged ‘STEM’

National Concrete Canoe Competition and the Wonders of Concrete


By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class William S. Parker [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Jarek Tuszynski [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)],
via Wikimedia Commons











If you have ever suggested that someone’s idea was going to sink like a concrete canoe, hold on a minute; college students participating in the ASCE National Concrete Canoe Competition would beg to differ with that simile. Every year since 1988, the American Society of Civil Engineers has held the national event, which grew from smaller competitions started in the 1960s. There is also a Canadian version of the competition and a less-scientific contest in Germany. The teams get hands-on experience in design, engineering and materials science, learning to enhance a material that has been in use for thousands of years. The 2014 event runs June 18-22. See the link above to read about the competition and to see pictures from previous years.

Roman Pantheon

The Pantheon in Rome

Concrete has a long history, with versions of it going as far back as 6500 BC in Syria, but the Romans took concrete construction to great new levels. Possibly their most famous concrete structure is the dome of the Pantheon, which, at 142 feet in diameter, is the largest unreinforced concrete dome ever built.

Basic concrete is made up of only a few ingredients: Portland cement, aggregate (rocks and sand) and water. The cement, which is made by heating limestone, reacts chemically with the water to make a binder that becomes hard as it cures. The aggregate provides strength, as does steel or materials that are often embedded in the concrete. For an in-depth technical discussion of the science, see this University of Illinois site, available in eLibrary: Scientific Principles of Concrete. High-tech versions have additives to increase strength and flexibility to allow them to be used in a wide range of applications.

Besides being used in common places like sidewalks, highways and even countertops, concrete is the material used to create some of the largest structures in the world, including the Three Gorges Dam in China, Petronas Towers in Malaysia and the Hoover Dam in the U.S.

The study of concrete can provide insight into various subject areas, including history, chemistry, engineering and materials science. See the links above and below and search and browse in eLibrary and to discover lots of great stuff for your research project or for use in your classroom.

Research Topics:

Civil Engineer
Materials Science

Subject browse sections (Click on underlined words to widen or narrow the scope and click on “View Results” to see eLibrary resources. Items with a star next to them will display a Research Topic pages.):


STEAM Resources for the Classroom and Library


Fractal Art by werner22brigitte [Public Domain] via Pixabay


STEAM is a movement that integrates an A for the arts into the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) initiative from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education.  STEAM education was created in 2006 by former teacher Georgette Yakman.

The Creative Component

Advocates of STEAM contend that there should not be a dichotomy between science and art. Instead, art should be seen as a driver of creativity that can foster innovation and spark engagement and learning in science education.

“Engineers, inventors, and designers produce drawings as part of their creative process. They draw to work out and refine concepts and details. They draw to persuade. They draw to give direction. And they draw to record their ideas and to learn from others.”–Doodles, Drafts, and Designs, Industrial Drawings from the Smithsonian

Pathway to Economic Growth

John Maeda, president of the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, sees STEAM as a pathway to fostering U.S. economic growth. Maeda, writing in Edutopia, has said that “[d]esign creates the innovative products and solutions that will propel our economy forward, and artists ask the deep questions about humanity that reveal which way forward actually is.” He cites Apple as well-known example of a company in which design is crucial to the success of technology.

Tried and True

The idea of integrating the arts and sciences in education is nothing new. Leonardo da Vinci, for example, was not only a famous Renaissance artist, but was also a scientist, engineer and inventor. In fact, he used his skills as an artist to draw his mechanical ideas.

“If someone had told Leonardo da Vinci, Newton, or Galileo that the study of science in the 21st century would be separated from the creativity of the arts or the social, cultural, and historical insights into human behavior offered by the humanities, they would have wondered what scientists had done to make the world disrespect them so much.  It’s an odd idea to separate out different kinds of knowledge that inspire and enrich one another in the real world and the virtual too.” – Duke Professor Cathy Davidson

Links for Teachers and Librarians

Over the past several years, more and more schools have begun integrating the arts into their STEM curricula. Below are six links you can use to incorporate STEAM into your classroom or library:

Websites for Students

Are your students working on a STEAM project and need a little inspiration? Below are five editorially-selected websites from ProQuest’s SIRS Issues Researcher.

If you’ve implemented a STEAM curriculum in your classroom or library, let us know what you’re doing in the comments section below or tweet us at #ProQuest.


Balancing the Humanities and STEM

Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) and the humanities all contribute to a strong education.

The decline of the humanities has been widely publicized. Federal funding for the humanities has been dwindling for years. And with funding for STEM rising, many teachers of the humanities are feeling defensive. But the war between STEM and the humanities implies a one-or-the-other choice when they should, in fact, coexist.

Taking an interdisciplinary approach to STEM and the humanities is a useful way to prepare students for any career. Jobs do not exist in a vacuum. Students will need to master a variety of skills regardless of the field. Teachers of the humanities can help by integrating STEM into assignments that also promote traditional humanities values such as communication and critical thinking.

iThink Tutor

ProQuest SIRS Issues Researcher offers ways to integrate technology and critical thinking. While exploring the controversial Leading Issues of our day, students will gain valuable experience doing research using an online database. They will find interactive tools like iThink Tutor to help guide their research. And, of course, they will find editorially selected articles that include news, statistics, and viewpoints to help them support their arguments.

An interdisciplinary approach to classroom assignments will help students hone a variety of skills simultaneously. The choice between STEM and the humanities is a false one. They all contribute to well-rounded students.

We’d love to hear from you! How do you take an interdisciplinary approach to education?

Got trash?

SIRS Discoverer is the place to be if you are an educator or a parent (or both!) in search of fun and educational science fair experiments.   Science Fair Explorer, a Database Feature in SIRS Discoverer,  is a highly visual interactive that connects you to exciting science fair projects.  Background information related to the science area of study – Chemistry, Physics, Life Science, Water, Ecology & the Environment – are quickly accessible in this feature.
All projects can be completed at school or at home with every day objects such as items found “in the garbage bin,” “in the bathroom,” and “in the junk drawer.”

–Tami Kirk