Sixth Grade Students Design, Construct, and Test Suspension Bridges

Sixth grade science students were recently challenged with designing, prototyping, and building a balsa wood and glue bridge. Their objective was to make the bridge be as light as possible, while supporting as much weight as possible. Their final products were tested and analyzed in front of a captivated audience of middle school students and parents during the annual Bridge Test Day.

Keys students spent several weeks working in teams to construct a bridge which demonstrated many of the principles of bridge design and structural engineering. Teacher Katrina Zerga’s classroom was transformed into an active, hands-on tinkering space where students generated ideas, displayed leadership and teamwork, and constantly refined their bridge designs based on peer and teacher feedback.

When Bridge Test Day arrived, the hard work was put to the test. Each group presented their bridge and explained their design features. Then they watched as their scale model creations were loaded with kilogram weights until they reached their respective breaking points. Load to weight rations were calculated as the friendly competition progressed amid cheers from the captivated crowd.

Following the event, each team had an opportunity to reflect on their results, identify weak points of their bridge design, and suggest refinements that could further enhance the design – a critical and challenging final step in the design process.

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