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Paper Bridge STEM Activity

We went to Somerset Elementary School and hosted a paper bridge activity with 40 fifth graders. The students had fun and competed against each other and learned some basic physics concepts! This blog post will provide an outline of this STEM activity and other organizations can reuse our procedure, as long as they give proper credit. At the end, we will provide the link to the PowerPoint that was used.

The Procedure

First, we presented various physics concepts (see below) before we jumped straight into the build-a-bridge acitivty. When the students finished, we judged each of the bridges in front of the whole class and tested which one was the strongest.

Physics Presentation: 10 minutes

Build-a-bridge activity: 25 minutes

Judging the Bridges: 10 minutes

Physics Concepts Taught

- Forces and Loads

- Compression vs Tension Force

- Different types of bridges

Build a Paper Bridge Activity

1) Split the students into groups of 2 to 4

2) Put a stack of printer paper at the front of the class so the students can go up and grab it whenver they need it

3) Give a certain amount of masking tape for each group. They will not be allowed to get more tape than what's given.

4) Each group can use scissors

5) Encourage the students to sketch a drawing of their bridge on a notebook before actually building it

6) Start the 25 minute timer

7) Once the time's up, tell everyone to stop because you will be...

Judging the Bridges

1) Make sure to bring a bag of pennies, nickels, and quarters beforehand

2) Make some "rolls" of coins by stacking up 10 coins and wrapping it around with tape (ex: a roll of 10 pennies, a roll of 10 nickels, a roll of 10 quarters)

3) You can place individual coins at the start, but if the bridge seems pretty stable, starting placing rolls

4) Try to place the coins on the weakest spots of the bridge

5) Keep track of how much weight the bridge is holding. There is a reference to how much a penny, a nickle, and a quarter weights in the PowerPoint


3 winning groups:

- 1st place (holds the most weight)

- 2nd place (holds the 2nd most weight)

- Most creative design (you get to decide which bridge design looks the best)

You can choose what the prizes are!

PowerPoint Link

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