Can Elementary students engineer bridges?

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At ISP young learners can engineer bridges! Coding and Design gives young learners an edge in technology. 

Guided by the leadership and vision of Elementary Technology Coach Mr. Patrick Frape, ISP offers all Elementary students a Coding and Design course. Students attend these classes with Mr. Frape once in a six day cycle and learn how to code, use the design cycle to explore materials, solve problems, innovate ideas, and create artifacts.

In the first part of 2021-22 Elementary School students in Grades 2-5 have been engaged in an educational, exciting and engaging project, the “Bridge Project”

Elementary Co-Principal Dr. Jimena Zalba sat down with Mr. Frape to learn more about this project. Check out a video of the Bridge Project here

Dr. Zalba: What is the “Bridge Project?”

Mr. Frape: The “Bridge Project” is a project where students build paper and masking tape bridges to learn important concepts from geometry, physics and design. Once they can name a concept, however, they can transfer that learning more purposefully to a real problem: the 60cm bridge challenge.

Dr. Zalba: So students learn and apply geometry, physics and design concepts to this project. What are the learning objectives of this project?

Mr. Frape: Students learn through trial and error that different shapes have different strengths and a longer lever applies a greater torque force. In addition, they learn design. For example, students intuitively know that paper is strong when you pull it and weak when you bend it. They also use their prior knowledge that a paper tube that has more layers of paper will be stronger as a result.

Dr. Zalba: Throughout the lessons you name and notice these evolving theories and discoveries. I observed students explaining their thinking and ideas to you and their peers. Tell us more about what students are doing in your classes to discover these ideas.

Mr. Frape: In Part I of this project, students build the strongest paper tube that they can. First, they tune into a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge and discuss which shapes make the bridge strong, i.e. triangles, circles, arcs and tubes. They play with paper and find out that it has a high tensile (pulling) strength. Then they create paper tubes of different shapes and sizes and test how strong they are using 200g, 400g, 600g and 800g weights. They record their findings on a sticky note chart to practice acquiring new knowledge in a systematic way.

In Part II, students design and collaboratively build a 15-paper bridge that spans 60cm and supports 1,000g in order to apply prior knowledge to a real problem. To tune into the activity and abstract their ideas, each student first draws a picture of their paper bridge. Then, students pair up and build their bridge. In the last 10 minutes of class, groups take turns testing their designs with weights in front of the class on two stools 60cm apart.

Like many of our teachers in the Elementary school, Mr. Frape uses “exit tickets” to assess engagement and get feedback from students. For this project, Mr. Frape used “exit tickets” with the following questions: What are you learning from working on this project? What has been challenging and fun? What has been too difficult for you? What learning habits have you used in this project? Why is this an important project to do at school?

Students chose a question and here are some of our students’ feedback:

  • “I am learning about how to make a structure stable”
  • “I am learning how to give a job to everybody in my team”
  • “I am learning that it is important to make building strong and stable for people to be safe”
  • “I am learning how to be an engineer”
  • “I needed to be patient to do this work on this project”
  • “I need to focus and think ahead”