Thursday, March 11, 2021

Pipeline shapes: Which shape is best?

This month’s blog is brought to you by Clare Docking, one of our advisory teachers who works with industry and schools in the East of England.

Most, children are very observant and will have noticed pipes in their everyday environment. They will be able to tell you that some pipes carry water or sewage. They may have noticed drainage pipes by roads or pipes leading to gutters. This activity prompts them to consider a substance that is often piped to our houses - natural gas.

Children enjoy practical challenges and this one asks them to construct and test paper pipes to investigate which shape (cylinder, cuboid, and triangular prism) is best for a pipe. In doing this, they are also led to think about the properties of gas. Gas is all around us, but children may not fully understand its properties as it is not tangible like liquids and solids. By blowing up a long balloon inside a paper pipe the children can observe what happens. They see the air inflating the balloon and changing the shape of the paper pipe. This provides an ideal opportunity to explore the properties of gas further and explain that gas under pressure is naturally trying to expand and push out in all directions .Cylindrical pipes are best as the pressure pushing outwards is evenly distributed around a cylinder and does not distort the shape. This investigation is easy to set up as it involves using easy to obtain resources.

Three, two, one – investigate!
  • Children love a challenge.  Tell them that they are engineers for this investigation and an important part of an engineer’s job is finding answers to problems by carrying out practical investigations and tests.
  • Start the fair test investigation by telling the children that scientists at Seabed Engineering would like their help. The company lays pipelines on the seabed for other companies to collect natural gas from under the sea and send it back to shore inside the pipes. The long pipes which they lay along the seabed are cylindrical in shape, but they would like to know if there are any other shapes of pipes which might be better than cylinders. 
  • First, explore the idea of ‘pipes’ with the children. Where have they seen pipes before? Discuss examples in their immediate environment and the pipes they can see in the world around them.  What substances do pipes carry? Tell them about the pipes carrying natural gas from the seabed.
  • Have all the resources to hand and talk through their challenge with them, showing them how to cut out the paper pipes using the templates and then how to inflate the balloon inside the pipe.
  • Once the children have decided on what they need to keep the same for a fair test, they need to consider how they can measure results. How will they measure the success of the differently shaped pipes? The activity lends itself to a variety of measuring and recording methods, so it is ideal if you are working with different age groups.  They could draw, photograph, or describe what they see happening or use post-its to jot down ideas and conclusions.
  • The children will love to report back findings to the class and ultimately to Seabed Engineering in a variety of ways e.g. videos, reports, letters, or photos with captions

Full details of the activity can be found in our free resource and incudes teachers’ notes, children’s activity sheets and national curriculum links.

Top Tips

Here are some tips to make your investigation a success:

  • This activity is perfectly suited for COVID secure working as it can easily be carried out individually, in pairs or small bubbles.
  • Make sure the joins in the pipes are securely fastened with Sellotape.
  • Put the balloon inside the pipe and then gently inflate the balloon with the balloon pump.
  • Tell the children not to over-inflate or burst the balloons.
We have produced a linked IndusTRY at home activity for children to share with their families.  Why don't you put a link on your school website