To Get to the Other Side

To Get To The Other Side

Building Popsicle Stick Bridges

Civil Engineering

Lesson Focus

Lesson focuses on how bridges are engineered to withstand weight, while being durable, and in some cases aesthetically pleasing. Students work in teams to design and build their own bridge out of up to 200 popsicle sticks and glue. Bridges must have a span of at least 12 inches and be able to hold at minimum a five pound weight (younger students) or a twenty pound weight (older students). Students are encouraged to be frugal, and use the fewest number of popsicle sticks while still achieving their goals. Students then evaluate the effectiveness of their own bridge designs and those of other teams, and present their findings to the class.

Lesson Synopsis

The “Popsicle Bridge” lesson explores how engineering has impacted the development of bridges over time, including innovative designs and the challenge of creating bridges that become landmarks for a city. Students work in teams of “engineers” to design and build their own bridge out of glue and popsicle sticks. They test their bridges using weights, evaluate their results, and present their findings to the class.

Age Levels

6-18

Objectives

  • Learn about civil engineering.
  • Learn about engineering design.
  • Learn about planning and construction.
  • Learn about teamwork and working in groups.

Anticipated Learner Outcomes

As a result of this activity, students should develop an understanding of:

  • structural engineering and design
  • problem solving
  • teamwork

Lesson Activities

Students learn how bridges are designed to meet load, stress, and aesthetic challenges. Students work in teams to design and build a bridge out of up to 200 popsicle sticks and glue that can hold a standard weight based on the age of the students. Teams test their bridge, evaluate their own results and those of other students, and present their findings to the class.

Time Needed

Two to three 45 minute sessions

Resources/Materials

Download the lesson pdf. The file includes all the worksheets needed for the activity.
CivilEngineering_BuildingBridges

  • Teacher Resource Documents
  • Student Worksheets
  • Student Resource Sheets
  • Popsicle Sticks
  • Pencils
  • Rulers
  • Craft Glue
  • Cardboard
  • Graph Paper
  • Wax Paper
  • Masking Tape
  • 5lb & 20lb weights

Procedure

  1. Show students the various Student Reference Sheets. These may be read in class, or provided as reading material for the prior night’s homework.
  2. Divide students into groups of 2-3 students, providing a set of materials per group.
  3. Explain that students must develop their own bridge from up to 200 popsicle sticks and glue. Bridges must be able to hold a five pound weight for younger students and a twenty pound weight for older students. The bridge must span at least 12 inches (so it must be longer than 12 inches). When the bridge has been constructed, it will be placed at least one foot above the floor (place it between two chairs, as an example) and tested with a weight bearing test. In addition to meeting the structural and weight bearing requirements, the bridge will also be judged on its aesthetics, so students should be encouraged to be creative. Students will be encouraged to use the fewest number of popsicles possible to achieve their goal.
  4. Students meet and develop a plan for their bridge. They draw their plan, and then present their plan to the class.
  5. Student groups next execute their plans. They may need to rethink their design, or even start over.
  6. Next….teams will test their bridge’s weight capacity by placing it at least one foot above the floor (try using blocks or a chair supporting each end of the bridge). The bridge must be able to bear the assigned weight (depending upon student age) for a full minute.
  7. Each bridge should be judged by the class in terms of its aesthetic value on a scale of 1-5. This is, of course, subjective.
    1: not at all appealing
    2: not appealing
    3: neutral/average
    4: somewhat appealing
    5: very appealing
  8. Teams then complete an evaluation/reflection worksheet, and present their findings to the class.