This project was one of the most challenging learning experiences I have facilitated, but it was also one of the most rewarding. With the encouragement of admin, our team decided to throw out our schedule and devote an entire month to this cross-curricular project. We began this project by doing a fun activity where students built towers out of spaghetti and marshmallows. Students tried many different approaches, and through some trial and error, were able to identify some strong shapes to use to construct a solid structure. A reflection followed to help them think about what processes they went through to be successful.
Spaghetti Tower Challenge – Spaghetti Tower introduction with reflection assignment.
After this challenge, we began building a knowledge base of structures with the end game in mind of creating a strong, popsicle stick bridge. An area we focussed on to help understand the purpose of gaining this new knowledge was by utilizing the building of the Walterdale Bridge in Edmonton. We were lucky enough to have the project manager come and speak with our students about some of the challenges they were facing with the building of the bridge. Students were very interested in the variety of obstacles, everything from supplier problems for the materials to having to preserve aboriginal burial grounds around the site of the build. We then went on a field trip to visit the construction site and take some observational notes about the construction process as well as look at some other structures, like the High-Level Bridge, to see the real application of the terminology we had been learning. Students took notes and completed scientific drawings of the structures they saw.
Bridge Field Trip – Observations worksheet students used while on the field trip.
Now students began the final process of the unit; constructing their own model bridge to replace the Walter Dale Bridge. Students took on different roles including a historian, a structural engineer, a materials expert, and a design chief. They completed research based on their role and came together to provide feedback for each other every day. We were extremely lucky to have a group of 5 engineer students from the U of A volunteer to come mentor our students throughout this process. They provided expert insight and advice and even agreed to help “judge” the final products. The final product included research, blueprints (to scale), a proposal letter to the city, a company philosophy, and their model bridge. Students applied their scientific knowledge, learned how to write persuasively, researched the historical significance of the bridge’s build location and collaborated to complete a major project. The building process itself was very fun. We had students “pay” for their materials and record a budget which included calculating taxes and labor costs. On the final day, our engineers went around and each group presented their proposal while the engineers graded their blueprints, overall design, materials use and final costs. Afterward, we tested each bridge to its breaking point by applying more and more weight. It was fantastic to hear the students explaining where the bridges were failing while using correct terminology and have a blast while doing it.
Bridge Project – This is the entire document for the final bridge project, starting with research and ending in building the popsicle bridge
Bridge Proposal Letter – Template for proposal letter
Bridge Project Reflection – Post project reflection