Bridge Challenge Builds Teamwork

Bridge Challenge Builds Teamwork, Puts Learning to the Test
Posted on 03/09/2021
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building bridges collageAlfredo. Bolognese. Carbonara. When you think of fettuccine, a bridge might not be one of your first thoughts, but it is for students taking physical science at East Freshman.


“Our goals are engineering based,” explained teacher Larry Honigford. “The difference between engineering and science is that science addresses the fundamental concepts and ideas. (They) can then be applied in engineering, which is trying to address a problem.”


The problem-solving project, which has been challenging freshmen for seven years, is an opportunity for students to put what they have learned about forces to the test. “This requires that the students brainstorm, plan, apply, adjust and test their ideas,” said Honigford. Each team must design and build a bridge that can hold a physical science lab book...and they only have 30 pieces of dry fettuccine and 1.5 meters of masking tape to do it. 


Once the students have constructed their bridges, the real fun begins. First, a piece of paper is laid on the structure. Then, a class lab book. If the bridge is still standing, additional lab books are added to test the strength of the structure. 


“We started thinking about the structure of a table,” Gabe Adams explained when describing his team’s process. He and his partner, Nathan Ridge, used tape and noodles to reinforce the corners of their bridge. Tyler Albrecht and Audrey Jackson had a similar idea. They added additional noodles at angles along the side to add extra support.


Kaylin Baumer and Isabella Branham sketched out ideas after reviewing last year’s record-breaking bridge. “We were thinking triangles, Xs and crosses for the sides,” said Baumer. 


“We broke a noodle when we were testing,” said Branham. Since students are not allowed to exchange broken noodles, Branham and Baumer got creative. “We made a splint for the broken noodle,” she explained.


“It has been interesting to see some of the ideas,” said Honigford. “Some have tried to wet the noodles to make them stick, but that is harder than one might think.”


Branham, who was hoping their bridge would hold two books, added, “We were thinking about cross supports and wanted to strengthen up the sides because that was most important.” In the end, their planning paid off, with the bridge holding 14 lab books.


The record holding bridge was made last year by a special guest “classmate.” East Freshman’s school resource officer, Deputy Todd Cordes, joined the challenge in Dennis Beck’s class. His bridge held a whopping 52 lab books.


Regardless of the outcome, reflection plays an important role in the assessment. “I think the students usually see why their ideas either worked or didn’t work and it gives them the chance to reflect on what could have been better,” noted Honigford. “The project includes recovery questions which require them to think about how their project could have been completed better.”  


“The goals of the project are two-fold,” said Beck. “One is cooperative learning, then of course the idea that you need to build a structure that will balance the force of gravity being exerted on the books.”


In addition to being fun and an opportunity to show what they know, Baumer and Branham said that being able to work together made them better friends. Who knew fettuccine could have such a positive impact?