Students Use Engineering Knowledge to Design Campus Bridge


Spencer Cohen

This bridge which resides over the bishopwood tree at Blue Dot, will be replaced by a bridge designed by eighth-grade students.

According to substitute science teacher Mr. Frank Taylor, “Teamwork is a critical skill and…virtually everything you do [is] better as a team.” This was the philosophy behind the bridge-building project eighth graders took on this quarter. Engineering is one of the main subjects covered in Ms. Gabriele St. Martin’s eighth-grade Science, Engineering, Analysis, and Technology (SEAT) class. For the past four weeks, students have been honing their engineering skills by working on miniature bridges. Students were given only two items with which to build them: thin strips of balsa wood and wood glue.

“We have students do the bridge project because it gives them a very basic lesson about the strength of structures, and what makes structures strong,” said Taylor.

Spencer Cohen
The balsa wood bridges line the counter in Ms. St. Martin’s room. The project, although difficult, supplied students with some of the necessary information to design the Blue Dot bridge.

Students were placed in groups of two or three for the project, which consisted of two parts: part one was the design, and part two was the actual construction. For the design, every student made a blueprint on a piece of 18” x 32” grid paper of the bridge design they picked out of a hat. Some of the designs that students were randomly given were the Baltimore truss, bowstring, truss, the Warren, and the Pennsylvania.

For part two, students used their blueprints as a template and built their bridges over it. The building stage took a great deal of time because of the fragility of the balsa wood, and the time needed for the glue to dry.

Unlike in years past, where the project became a competition as the bridges were tested to see which one could hold the most weight, this year’s bridge-building project just focused on the design. Part of the reason was because Ms. St. Martin had to take a leave of absence to take care of her mother, and there were other assignments the students needed to complete during the fourth quarter. As a result, the process for the students was long and tedious, and some students felt what they learned was not beneficial.

“Well I guess this project will only help if you want to be an engineer in the future, and you want to build a bridge,” said eighth grader Jakob Kroll.

However, this project may be helpful to the SEAT students who were given the task of redesigning the small walking bridge built over the bishop wood tree on the sidewalk at Blue Dot.

SEAT students were given the chance to work in groups of four and pick any design they thought would be good for the new bridge, since the current bridge is old and falling apart. The students had to sketch their designs on graph paper and submit them to Mr. Taylor for review. The design that is approved by Head of Middle School Mr. Charles Hagy and the School’s Board Of Trustees will actually be built as the new bridge at Blue Dot.

“The new SEAT assignment is cool because it give students the freedom to pick a design they think should be the new bridge,” said eighth grader Antonio Maciel. Most students seem to like this  project because they can use their creativity to solve a real-world problem that will benefit the School.

Some students, however, still do not like the idea of doing another project based around bridges. “I mean it’s cool, but it’s a little over the top,” said eighth grader Casey Crawford. “I mean we’re only eighth graders, and we’ve only built small truss bridges out of balsa wood, and I don’t think that we should be put to the task of designing a whole new bridge.”

While the task may be difficult, it’s a project-based assignment that puts the students’ knowledge and creativity to the test in order to improve Benjamin’s campus – an opportunity many middle school students don’t ever get.