In order for your students to learn the steps involved in the Engineering Process listed above, you should design the Bridge Building Contests based on those principles. In this section of the paper, I will give you examples of how to use it as a basic guide when you plan your contest at your school. No matter what type of contest you sponsor you can apply any these steps to straw, cardboard, toothpick, wooden coffee stirrers bridge contests.
When the contest is first announced the problem or task the students are about to undergo must be presented to the student. This could be done in a variety of ways. You can present the information to the class by showing the class a film, placing the information on the board, or design a rubric such as the one at the end of this section. The materials used can be change, but the criteria presented not only serve as explicit directions for the student, but it also a performance based evaluation that really assess the students work.
A list of the parameters the students must use before designing their bridges should be done as you determine the type of bridge the students will make. If you wish to consider the economic behind bridge building, like buying materials, you can copy this activity by letting the students buy or keep a record of the amount of materials they use in completing their bridge. For example, if your students are building a straw bridge, you can place a price on the straws and have your students keep record of how many straws were used. They can also be charged for all materials used while constructing their bridge. Have the students figure out how much their bridge is costing on the daily basis. The dimensions of the bridge should also be stated. For example, you could have the students build a bridge of straw with a span of 30 cm and a width of 5 cm. As an additional criteria you can limit the amount of straws each kid should use, or the amount of weight (load) the bridge should hold. A list of specific materials should be presented to the students based on the parameters of your contest.
Once the students have a full understanding of their limitations. Let the students meet in groups and decide the type of bridge they will build. Have them make a rough design of their bridge on construction paper. This will serve as their preliminary design. The next step in this process will call for the students analyze their design by drawing a more detailed drawing on graph paper. The students should design the bridge according to parameters presented during the introduction. Each student in the group should design a bridge, make sure they include a side, end and front view of the bridge. As a group, have the students decide on a design, or utilizing ideas from each of the individual bridges design a final blueprint of the bridge the group will construct.
Have the students write down the steps involved in building their bridges. Keeping a daily journal is a wonderful way of ensuring that all students are actively involved in designing and constructing the bridge. Whenever there is a structural change in the bridge design, the group has to update or draw a new blueprint of the bridge. All of this work should be kept in a portfolio under the group or company name.
Once the students begin constructing the bridge, they will make modifications which should be recorded in their journals. Make sure you check the students logs on the daily basis. Give daily observational grades in order to promote good work, and group working skills. You could also have students do weekly reports to the class of their progress. Through the use of the previously stated ideas, this would be a wonderful integrated unit of study for any middle school classroom.