Group members Kenden Bright, Elijah Orberson, Nathan Tungate, and Ethan Gardner watch as their bridge begins to give.
Rarely do students get excited about seeing a group project destroyed, but that was the case recently in Mr. Joey Reed’s 6th grade STEM class at Marion County Middle School, as students tested the strength of popsicle stick bridges.
Working in small groups, students were given 200 popsicle sticks and tasked with designing a small bridge. Students viewed examples of real bridges to use as examples before constructing their own.
After the bridges were glued together, each group presented a brief presentation to class discussing the process of creating their bridge.
Then came the test.
Each bridge was placed on a rack and attached to a weight that consisted of four buckets sitting across a plank. Reed filled the buckets with golf balls to add weight until the bridge gave and recorded the amount each was able to hold.
"You have the real world application but also the thinking aspect. It’s really interesting to see what students come up with and why they did things the way they did,” Reed said of the project. “Collaboration is key as well because they learn to work with people they may not get along with and how that affects things. My favorite part is seeing them mocking the bridge up and talking about how many times they changed their ideas because of things they thought would work with popsicle sticks, didn’t.”
For some students, the best part of the project was the collaborative process of creating the bridge itself.
“My favorite part was building it,” Kamiya Brown said. “We had to work together as a team to decide how to design the bridge.”
For classmate Cole Hayden, the best part was “probably when it was finished and getting to look at the finished product.”
But for others, like Elijah Orberson, the highlight was seeing “the bridge break.”
“Our weight prediction was 60 pounds, so we were pretty happy,” Orberson said. His group’s bridge ended up holding 71 pounds. “Originally, we designed it with a V-shape [...] but we scratched that idea. We learned that we had to target the weak spots.”
As Hayden and his group members waited their turn, he was optimistic about how well their bridge would perform.
“The first [bridge that was tested] looked a lot thinner, but it held over 50 pounds, so we think this one will hold more,” he said.
After the weight test was over, Reed said that some students were surprised by their bridge’s strength.
“Several of the students were shocked with how much their bridge held,” Reed said. “If it didn’t hold a lot we talked about why it didn’t and what could have changed to make it better.”
The project has become such a success with students, Reed said that they already know about it before they enter his class.
“Overall they really enjoy the project and it’s gotten a reputation,” he said. “The kids were asking about them last year during Jump Start Day.”