Prepare for take-off

29th November 2013 at 00:00

I was so excited to spend half-term in the city that doesn't sleep that on the overnight flight back home I was still unable to drop off. I turned my thoughts to school and our technology project. A moment later, I was inside a giant paper dart.

The dart swerved recklessly between Manhattan's skyscrapers, swooped down Broadway and hung a left on 34th Street. I found myself clinging on for dear life as it traversed Franklin D Roosevelt Drive and veered south towards the Brooklyn Bridge. Its attempt at a loop-the-loop under and over the famous landmark seemed doomed to failure. The wind died and it nosedived towards the East River.

I woke up in a cold sweat 36,000ft above the Atlantic, haunted by memories of our last technology project. Flying Machines mainly involved Ryan hanging precariously off the highest part of the climbing frame in a bid to win the longest-flight category. It also involved Ryan accidentally treading on a whirly-copter after test flights suggested it might win. And Ryan protesting his innocence after a mysterious attack at lunchtime left every plane but his own damaged beyond repair.

"Our technology project is Building Bridges," I tell the children back at school. "The aim is to work as a team to design and build a bridge out of card. It must span a 50cm gap and support a half-kilogram weight."

"Why can't we make aeroplanes again?" Ryan asks. "Because we can't," I say. "A bridge is more than a feat of engineering. It is a structure that unites communities. It is a symbol and a product of the ties that bind human beings together. The key to success is collaboration."

To inspire them, I tell the children that the Brooklyn Bridge was, in its time, the longest suspension bridge in the world and took 14 years to build. I also tell them that many teams of people were involved in its construction and that it cost the lives of several people, including its designer John Roebling.

Ryan is in Team Brunel. His fellow members are Viola, our maths and science genius, Tom, who has more practical skills than you can throw a junior hacksaw at, and Jenny, our student councillor and conciliator-in-chief.

"You have one and a half hours to design and build your bridges," I say. I think of the part I'm playing in inspiring a generation of builders, architects, designers and engineers. The future of human progress is safe in their hands.

With only 30 minutes left, Team Brunel is looking good. Viola's idea to fold sheets of card concertina-style and sandwich them between layers of art straws is a winner. After liaising with Jenny and making practical changes, Tom is well on the way to putting the plan into practice. Ryan has gone to check out the competition.

"Team Telford asked you not to interfere with their bridge," I tell him as we examine the crumpled mass that was once a single-arch construction with tubular supports.

"I was only helping them test it," Ryan says. "We should have made aeroplanes. I'm good at aeroplanes."

It's worrying that I might one day find myself 36,000ft above the Atlantic in a Ryan's Air jet.

Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield, England.

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