The BYQ eighth grade STEM class’ unit on structural engineering culminated in students designing and building their own bridges. They were given specifications, including that the bridge must span 14 inches and support at least 10 pounds. In addition, in the spirit of “real” engineers, they were given a budget of 200 Popsicle sticks and a bottle of wood glue. The girls were excited to begin their task, and each group submitted at least two design ideas for consideration before settling on the best plan. As construction began, they began to realize that bringing their ideas to actuality may be more difficult than they had thought. Each group tackled their unexpected snags through brainstorming and cooperation, even changing their original designs as needed.
The end products of the students’ hard work far exceeded their expectations both in strength and aesthetics. Many types of bridges were represented, from simple but sturdy beam bridges to more complex arch and cable-stayed bridges. Each bridge was tested with weights to observe how many pounds each bridge could support. Many groups added weight until its breaking point to record the maximum weight it could hold. Most of the bridges held over 50 pounds. Some were even able to support a student walking across the span!
The students agreed that this activity allowed them to learn lessons well beyond engineering skills.