Category Archives: Technology

Wivenhoe Dam and Mt Crosby Water Treatment Plant

The other week we went on an awesome homeschool excursion

to Wivenhoe Dam and Mt Crosby Water Treatment Plant.

It was a very big day with lots of driving.

We arrived early so we could stop off and see the spillway gates

(which weren’t part of the official tour).
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How impressive would it be to see all 5 gates open and spilling water out into the river!

I’d love to take the boys out to see this one time.

(However, I have concerns that the roads around Spillway Common

and the carparking facilities at the lookout

wouldn’t cope well with too many sightseers and that’s a major deterrent for me.)
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I wonder how far up the water reaches when the 5 spillway gates are open.

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On the day we visited, the only water we saw running was this little tinkle,

which I assuming is just the tiny continual release that keeps the water moving and healthy.

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Of course, I positioned the boys for the mandatory ‘I’ve been there’ photo.

Don’t they look thrilled.

Okay, well it had started to rain.

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The morning certainly made us worried about the weather for the day.

It was drizzly and rather miserable looking.

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But we continued on anyway,

stopping to check out the dam wall before meeting up with our tour group.

Did you know that Wivenhoe Dam is an earth and rock embankment wall dam?

Only the spillway section is concrete.

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As you get your first view of the dam,

it’s kind of a ‘wow’ moment,

especially when you stop to think that it was once a valley

that man flooded to create a dam.

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Oh and this view shows only a very small part of the dam.

At a guess, using a map to estimate, I’d say this is about a tenth of the dam.

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That white building you can see in the distance is Wivenhoe Hydroelectric Power Station.

They pump water up from Wivenhoe Dam into Splityard Creek Dam,

and then, during peak demand,

they release the water from Splityard Creek Dam

through the turbine generators.

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Yep, more ‘stand there and smile’ family shots.

The kids just love them….NOT!

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After an hour of exploring on our own,

we met up with our homeschool group and our education guide,

who would be with us for the day.

After a discussion about the dam and why we need it,

our guide sent the children into the information centre to search for information about 5 things.

1) How long is the dam wall?

2) How high is the dam wall?

3) How does the dam operate?

4) The name of a special fish that lives in the dam

5) Why that fish is special?

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The children hunted around the centre

and discovered that the dam wall is 2.3km long and 50m high.

They watched a video about how the dam works.

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Then they found the lungfish.

(Isn’t it ugly?!  And this fella is just a baby.

On average, they grow up to about a metre in length.)

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It’s special because it has an unusual swim bladder that allows it to breath air

when it is unable to breath using its gills.

That’s kinda cool.

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After the children reported their findings,

the group headed down to the banks of the dam

to do some water quality testing.

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They received their instructions and supplies

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and then found their own locations

to begin testing.

First they collected some macro-organisms from the water

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to examine and identify.

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This little fellow is a water snail.

He’s a very tolerant fellow and is happy to live in dirty water.

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I think this fellow is our mayfly nymph

and he’s a very sensitive fellow,

who hates dirty water,

which told us that the dam water was lovely and clean.

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Once the children had finished investigating the critters,

they turned their attention to the water itself.

First, the boys tested the turbidity of the water.

Even at the top of the tube, they could still see the cross on the bottom of the tube,

which told them that the water was clear.

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Then the boys collected samples of water

added their testing tablets,

and measured the level of dissolved oxygen, the pH levels and the phosphate levels.

All of the children’s results showed that the dam water is in very good shape.

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After the water testing, our guide explained the purpose of the auxiliary spillway

which was located beside the information centre

where we had gathered.

Apparently it’s like a fuse plug.

If the water gets too high, the middle section of the auxiliary spillway

(it goes first and is then possibly followed by the others)

erodes away and releases the excess water

that threatens the integrity of the whole dam.

During the 2011 flood crisis, the dam waters were only 70cm from eroding that middle section.

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Before leaving Wivenhoe Dam, our guide showed us a Whistling Kite nest up in a tree.

A Whistling Kite is a bird of prey so, after eating, there are lots of bones and feathers and such to be disposed of.

But these birds do not drop their rubbish beneath their nest.

That would attract goannas to their babies in the nest.

Instead, the Whistling Kite takes all of their rubbish and disposes of it in the same place

away from their nest.

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Our guide took us to the Whistling Kite’s rubbish dumb

and the kids found all sorts of fascinating (gross) things.

Bones, skulls, jaws,

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and plenty of pellets

– that’s the fur or feathers that the bird of prey vomits up after a meal!

(There’s always something terribly gross to be found on my blog.)

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And how do you follow up a discussion of vomited up pellets?

With lunch of course.

We left the dam just before lunch and drove to Mt Crosby

and enjoyed lunch in a park across the road from the water treatment plant.

The tour through the Water Treatment plant was really interesting.

I mean, how often do you get to do this kind of thing.

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The rules inside the plant were quite stringent.

The children had to obey instructions immediately

and everyone had to walk inside the blue lines at all times.

(See, children don’t need 12 years of institutional schooling to learn these things.)

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How our water is treated is really quite interesting.

It’s sucked up out of the Mt Crosby Weir

(I finally understand what a weir is!)

and filtered through this big brown ‘inlet screen’.

There are two.  One is in use while the other is cleaned.

These filters catch the really big stuff – leaves, twigs etc.

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The first stage in the water treatment process

involves adjusting the pH levels by adding Caustic Soda

(if necessary; and in order to help the next process).

Then aluminum sulphate, a coagulant, is added to the water.

It makes the dirt and gunk clump together

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into what they call a ‘floc’.

Isn’t it gross?!

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As the flocs get heavier,

they sink and settle to the bottom of the sedimentation tanks.

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That lovely sludge is then ‘vacuumed’ up

by this big vacuum system that slowly rolls down the tank.

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Then water is pumped into a building

where the water is further clarified

through the process of dissolved air filtration.

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Air is released into the tanks at the bottom of the pool

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and as it rises to the top,

it brings with it even more gross stuff.

Doesn’t it look like sea foam from the beach?!

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This ‘foamy grossness’ sloshes over the end of the pool

leaving behind even cleaner water

but still not clean enough to drink.

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The remaining water is then dropped down through a sand filter

to remove any remaining impurities.

Of course, they’ve only removed the dirt and organic matter.

The water is still full of micro-organisms.

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These pipes are beneath the indoor pools

and it is down here (I think)

that the water is disinfected with chlorine,

the pH is corrected with Lime

and the fluoride is added (for our teeth).

(Later, at the water reservoir, they add Chloramine – a combo of Chlorine and Ammonia

– to make sure nothing new can grow as it travels along the pipes to our homes)

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So now the water is drinkable,

but we mustn’t forget the sludge that was removed from the water.

It is also treated.

These are sludge thickening tanks.

They add a chemical to make the sludge once again sink to the bottom,

separating it further from the wastewater.

The wastewater can then be sent back through the treatment plant

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while the remaining muddy sludge

is pumped to a centrifuge tank (hard to see in this picture)

to remove even more water

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and the almost water-free mud cakes plop out of the tank

to be scooped up and left in the drying pans

before being scattered over land.

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And that’s the process of how ‘clean’ water gets to your taps.

So what do you reckon.

Does it make you feel better or worse about what comes out of your taps?!

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(The Up A Dry Gully website has a brilliant virtual tour

of both the dam and the water treatment plants,

as well as other water-related locations.)



Posted by on September 12, 2016 in Field Trips, Science, Technology


Lego Mindstorms Workshop

The third QUT (university) workshop we attended was one focused on Lego Mindstorms.

Of the three workshops, this was the very best.

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The presenters were brilliant.

They engaged and managed the group excellently

and created an environment that was cooperative and challenging.

Our children LOVED this workshop.

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They were working with the EV3 Lego Mindstorm Robot

and had a series of tasks to complete.

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Their first task was to create an addition to their vehicle that,

once programmed,

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would drive around a setting

clearing debris but avoiding obstacles like buildings and vehicles.

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The second task gave the children the skills

to program their vehicles to follow and drive along

specific coloured lines.

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The programming isn’t as difficult as you might imagine.

The Lego Mindstorm uses ‘drag and drop’ programming

so there’s no language to learn,

which makes the task very simple.

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The children merely need to comprehend what they want their robot to do

and translate that into accurate and precise commands.

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The first two workshop tasks taught the children a number of programming skills,

which would be needed in the third task.

The third task was the greatest challenge.

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The children had to program their robot,

using the skills they had previously learned,

to drive up a ramp,

continue driving until the vehicle sensed the edge of the structure,

then turn and drive across the structure,

turn again in line with the target,

and finally drive towards the target,

to push on its bar to raise a satellite.

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It was a fairly involved task,

which required a lot of adjustments,

but, before long, the three boys had worked it out.

The boys worked together beautifully.

In fact, the presenters gave them very high praise

saying their programming skills were outstanding

their collaborative skills were excellent

and they were very impressed with how quickly and well they completed all of the tasks.

The boys loved this workshop!


Posted by on September 6, 2016 in Field Trips, Technology


Little Bits Workshop

A few weeks back we went to a “Little Bits” workshop at QUT.

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Little Bits are electronic building blocks

that snap together magnetically.

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We own “Snap Circuits” sets (also called “Brainboxes”)

but Little Bits are a step up in complexity

(and a jump up in price too).

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The workshop set the students a number of challenges

that increased in complexity

throughout the morning.

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Little Bits also differ from Snap Circuits

in that they can be used in conjunction

with other items

to invent gadgets.

I think this makes Little Bits a more versatile tool.

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One of the challenges that was set for the students

was to create a device

that could grab an object like a pencil.

This is what our group of boys came up with.

Another challenge the boys were given

was to use recyclable items

to create a satellite dish

that would work in conjunction

with their Little Bit configuration

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to convert sound to light

to travel across a distance to their dish

and then bounce to their receiver

which would convert the light back into sound.

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It’s simpler than it sounds

…at least that’s what the kids said.

Before long the kids had “We Will Rock You”

blaring out of their “Little Bit” speaker.

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My boys thoroughly enjoyed this workshop

We might just have to invest in a set

…one day.

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Posted by on September 5, 2016 in Field Trips, Technology


Rocket Science

Earlier this week,

we went on a little excursion.

Well, it wasn’t entirely ‘little’.

It meant getting out of bed super duper early (for us)

to get us on the highway before 7am!

That was followed by a slow crawl into the city

with all the other half-awake commuters (Poor things).

Once in the city, we parked on the cheaper side of the city

and took a ferry across the river.

We could have walked, but it’s a long walk,

and we were on a tight time schedule.

We are actually just lazy.

Besides, the ferry added extra thrill to our trip.

The boys hadn’t been on a ferry since they were small,

and it wasn’t a City Cat back then.

(One day we’ll have to return for a longer river adventure.)

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Before we knew it, we were walking through the QUT Campus,

looking for the Science and Technology building.

The purpose for our visit

– a Rocket Science workshop and a session on the Cube.

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The kids worked at individual stations

using the flight simulator, Orbiter

(you can download it for free online).

Over the couple of hours we were there,

they explored the relationships

between mass (empty and fuel), thrust and altitude.

At the end of the workshop,

they had to use what they had learned

to launch their rocket with the highest altitude.

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After the workshop,

we headed down to the ‘Cube’,

which didn’t look at all like a cube.

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From what I could gather,

the Cube is a large interactive multiperson touchscreen device.

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The workshop participants,

used the Cube to complete a Fireworks Chemistry module.

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The boys had explored a similar program

at GOMA a few years back

so they enjoyed reacquainting themselves with the activity.

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The QUT workshop was pretty good

(as was the Cube experience)

and we are looking forward to future workshops.

Our only complaint was that QUT wasn’t flexible

regarding their “maximum two supervising teachers” rule.

Despite being a very large room,

most of the parents were locked out of the room

and had no idea what their children were doing.

Consequently, they won’t be able to follow up the learning

in their own curriculums.

This was very disappointing

but is a common experience for homeschoolers

trying to work within school-based structures.


after our workshop finished,

the boys and I jumped on another ferry

and flew back down the coast

to get Ethan to his computer class.

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Yes, it was a very big day

– Rocket Science in the morning

and computer programming in the afternoon.

All in all, a very good day.

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Posted by on June 11, 2016 in Field Trips, Science, Technology