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Paper Penny Bridge

stacks of penniesIn this activity, student teams in grades 8 and up learn about the engineering design process and physical forces by building a bridge from a single sheet of paper and up to five paper clips that will span 20 cm and support the weight of 100 pennies. Like real engineers, teams also have limited budgets and must make trade-offs in materials.

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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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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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Contest: Bridge Design, Long Island High School Students

For this bridge building contest sponsored by the Office of Educational Programs (OEP), Brookhaven National Laboratory, high school students from Long Island, NY submit their bridges to the ultimate pressure test, and compete to take part in a national contest. Bridge submission deadline: March 3, 2010.

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Contest: West Point Bridge Design

The West Point Bridge Design Contest aims to provide middle school and high school students with a realistic, engaging introduction to engineering. The contest is provided as a service to education–and as a tribute to the Academy’s two hundred years of service to the United States of America. Contest registration opens January 28, 2010, with first qualifying round closing March 5, 2010.

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Lesson: Bridge Building. Tension and Compression

LightningVolt_Mackinac_BridgeIn this lesson for grades 6-12, students experience the forces of tension and compression by manipulating objects that are strong in each but not in both. Students then take what they have learned and apply it to the construction of a simple model of a beam bridge and the more complex suspension bridge and inverted triangle support structure. During the lesson, students watch video segments that illustrate the design and construction process in the real world.

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