"Building Model Bridges Following the Engineering Process" is a curriculum unit designed to be used with students in grades 5 through 8. I am a Magnet School Facilitator at East Rock Global Magnet School where I run an after school program called CPEP. The acronym CPEP stands for the Connecticut Pre-Engineering Program. CPEP is designed to introduce students to the field of engineering and to motivate them to pursue majors in math and science when they enter college. During the second weekend of May, the students participate in CPEP Day where they enter one or more engineering contest ranging from bridge building to designing the fastest solar cars and boats. Since bridge building is one of the major contests during CPEP Day, I decided to write this unit in order to prepare my students for the competition. In addition to introducing students to the principles of engineering and different types of bridges, this unit will also prepare teachers to sponsor a bridge building exercise in their classrooms or schools.
Upon completion of this unit, the students will be able to: (1) identify the engineering principles behind bridge building; (2) identify different types of bridges; (3) become aware of a process outlining how bridges are designed and built; (4) understand some of the physics important for designing, building and using bridges (5) understand some of the preliminary events that takes place before construction, and finally (6) draw and build a bridge according to specification using the principles of engineering.
The curriculum unit will be divided into three major sections. The first section will introduce students to the three major types of bridges- the beam bridge, the arch bridge and the suspension bridge. Even though most bridges combine attributes from more than one bridge design, all have as their most basic element one of these three bridge types.
The second section of the unit will discuss the engineering process in bridge design. The engineering process can be broken down into eight simple steps: (1) identifying the problem; (2) determining the constraints; (3) designing the bridge; (4) analyzing the design; (5) refining the design; (6) implementing the plan; (7) modifying the plan of implementation, and; (8) building the bridge based on modifications. The data that engineers need in order to design the bridge will also be covered in this section.
The third section of the unit will introduce teachers to one type of bridge building contests. The wooden coffee stirrer bridge contest presented in this unit can easily be adapted to using other materials such as popsicle sticks, straws, balsa wood or any other desired materials. I will cover the design constraints and specifications for each contest presented in this section. The materials that each group of students will use to complete the bridge, along with some helpful hints to complete the projects will be included in this section. Finally, an evaluation tool, or judging criteria will be presented to the instructor in order to determine if each group completed the assigned task and to assess their achievements in learning.