Build A Bridge

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SWBAT identify the impact that bridges have on society and investigate ways of creating a strong structure using only a piece of paper.

Big Idea

Bridges are important structures in society. Engineers analyze the bride purpose and location when designing the best bridge. Using the Engineering Design Process, students build and test a paper bridge.

Bell Ringer - Admit Slip

5 minutes

Before Viewing the Video:

I Think that bridges . . . .because...

One expectation for lesson planning at my school is to begin each class period with a Bell Ringer. Bell Ringers get the students "thinking about science" and help "jump start" the class. I have students write an Admit Slip but they could also write in a Science Journal (Notebook) or blank paper as they respond to the video. The Admit Slip has a Sentence Frame I Think that bridges . . . .because... which helps to "jump start" student writing and forces them to write a rigorous sentence. Look at this lesson Green Problem Solving for more information about Sentence Frames. Some responses I am looking for include: bridges help with transportation, bridges help people, bridges help us to cross a river or valley.

After viewing the video:

One question I have about bridges is . . .

I give students two minutes to write a response then take one minute for them to share with their partner. Finally, we share responses as a class so students can hear and process other's thoughts. I want students to tell me what questions they have about bridges. This is a valuable opportunity for students to Think Pair Share, a strategy that encourages a high degree of classroom participation.

Build and Test A Paper Bridge

30 minutes

Why build a bridge?

It’s truly an activity that incorporates all aspects of STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math). STEM activities lend themselves to a variety of classrooms such as math, science, and engineering and can be done at different levels throughout middle school or high school. 

Using the Engineering Design Process (EDP), I ask students to think about the impact that bridges have on society and then to investigate ways to create a strong structure using only a piece of paper. I want students to MS-ESS3-2 analyze and interpret data on natural hazards to forecast future catastrophic events and inform the development of technologies to mitigate their effects. During the lesson, students will learn how natural phenomena can affect a bridge focusing on NGSS CCC #2 cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems. Students will also learn that the design of a structure and materials used affect the integrity of the structure focusing on NGSS CCC #6 structures can be designed to serve particular functions by taking into account properties of different materials, and how materials can be shaped and used.

As I guide students through the EDP, I provide a worksheet and then want them to Step 1 ask questions, Step 2 imagine solutions, Step 3 plan, Step 4 create, Step 5 improve, and Step 6 redesign. Students work in cooperative groups to go through this process and determine ways to create a strong structure using only a piece of paper.

Note: I want to give credit to the website Teachers TryScience for this bridge building resource. The website Teachers TryScience is a free, reliable, easily accessible resource.

Note: Each lesson in this unit, Master Disaster, works towards mastery of the NGSS MS-ESS 3-2 which states students will analyze and interpret data on natural hazards to forecast future catastrophic events and inform the development of technologies to mitigate their effects.

Optional: Use the iPad app "Bridge Constructor" (Free) by Headsup Games GmbH & Co KG. This is a simulation game app that uses simple physics where you design and build your bridge before testing it.

Write A Conclusion

5 minutes

I learned that . . .because . .

Now, let's write a conclusion. As with any inquiry, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but that ok. This provides opportunity to discuss the learning experience. This step is very important for students to "come full circle."

I know that you need to take students back to the question so they can think about the process. What impact do bridges have on society? What have you learned about the Engineering Design Process? Take 1-2 minutes for students to process the questions and write a conclusion. I give them a sentence starter to help with the process, for example:  I learned that . . .because...

Then take one minute to share answers with the class so students can hear other students' thoughts. Some student responses include:

  • I learned that if you fail keep trying because if you keep trying you will eventually get it right.
  • I learned that you need to go through the design process because your first try may not work as well as each try you do after that.
  • I learned that to build a strong bridge, use more than one folded sheet because it gives the bridge more support and structure.