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Feature: Bridges and Historical Lessons


Henry Petroski uses the example of several bridge construction projects to illustrate the importance to engineers of history and historical lessons in this article from Prism magazine, Oct. 2006.

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Lesson: Suspension Bridge Building

Students grades 5-12 assume the role of civil engineers in constructing a model suspension bridge. They learn about other types of spans — including arch, girder, truss, and cantilever — and of the careful balance of compression and tension required in bridge building.

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Web Resource: Bridge Building Software

Built for the West Point Bridge Design 2010 Contest, the West Point Bridge Designer 2010 software also can be used and distributed for educational uses. This software provides tools to model, test, and optimize a steel highway bridge, based on realistic specifications, constraints, and performance criteria. It introduces students to engineering through an authentic, hands-on design experience. This software provides tools to model, test, and optimize a steel highway bridge, based on realistic specifications, constraints, and performance criteria. It introduces students to engineering through an authentic, hands-on design experience.

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Curriculum: Bridge Building

A Bridge-Building Curriculum Unit from the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. Level: grades 5-8.This curriculum unit, “Building Model Bridges Following the Engineering Process,” by Joe Lewis,” introduces students to the different types of bridges and engineering principles and assists teachers with the planning of a bridge building contest. In addition to background information, this unit includes an evaluative tool and lesson plans.

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Feature: East River Pioneer

Emily Roebling was a proper Victorian wife, determined to remain in her husband’s shadow. Yet she became one of the world’s earliest female pioneers in engineering. Emily Roebling, as much as any single person, was responsible for the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.

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Website: The Brooklyn Bridge on PBS

The PBS documentary on the Brooklyn Bridge was the first produced by Ken Burns, in 1982. This related PBS website offers a timeline on the design and building of the bridge, other on-line resources, and a educators’ page with lesson ideas.

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Website: Build It Big – Bridges from PBS


The PBS Bridge page, part of the 5-part television series and website, Build It Big, offers a number of great resources on spans, including: Bridge Basics, Forces Lab, Who Builds Big?, Bridge Webography, and the fun, interactive Bridge Challenge. See also the Educators Guide, with activities, resources, and planning ideas.

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Website: Tufts U. Bridge Library

The several working bridge models of the Tufts Bridge Library are used with Massachusetts students grades 1-6 to demonstrate different types of bridge design, architecture, and construction methods. In addition, the online Tufts Bridge Library offers excellent resources, including a PowerPoint Presentation, several classroom activities and games, as well as links to other online bridge resources and programs.

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Engineer’s Week Bridge Building Contest

The Northeast Indiana Engineers Week Committee and the Anthony Wayne Chapter of the Indiana Society of Professional Engineers holds their annual Student Bridge Competitions for middle and high school students on Feb. 13 and Feb. 20 respectively. Students build a variety of different bridge models, and then their designs are tested by applying weight loads.

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