Would you drive across a bridge made from popsicle sticks and yarn? In December, MICDS Upper School students asked us to suspend our disbelief as they proved just how effective those engineering materials are at creating bridges.
Travis Menghini, Upper School Math Teacher, tasked his engineering students with making the bridges. “I was inspired by the excitement and scale of the project after watching the West Sound STEM Bridge Challenge on Youtube.”
The work to complete the bridges spanned several disciplines. Students have been learning Computer-Aided Design all year and used CAD software to help design their bridges before they built them. They were also responsible for studying how actual bridges perform and work. “Students were required to perform their own research on real-world bridges as well as other popsicle stick bridges to help them conceptualize and design their bridges,” Menghini said.
This year’s winners were Connor Hunt ’22, Harry Kohler ’23, Zachary Lippert ’23, and Mac Stevens ’23. “We did some research on both real-world bridges and popsicle stick bridges to determine what design would hold the most weight. We determined that more popsicle sticks equaled a stronger bridge,” said Kohler. Stevens, echoed the need for researching the best design. “Our research showed us that some bridges failed because the platform fell over on its side. We decided to include a wall-like stack of sticks on the inside to prevent the platform from folding,” he said. The research paid off and the team’s bridge held 400 lbs. before failing.
Menghini emphasized that students need to build on the scaffolding of their MICDS education to be successful at the project. “As an instructor, I mainly served as a mentor and gave guidance to the kids,” he said. “My goal is not to tell them the answer, but rather to guide their research to follow the scientific method and for them to learn from classmates what works best.”
Learning about bridge-building concepts and applying them to a real-world experiment was rewarding. “The project was able to give us a more in-depth look at the general concepts of modern bridges and the science behind them,” said Stevens. But, as Kohler admitted, “The best part was winning.”
The 2019 record for most weight held by an MICDS popsicle stick bridge still stands at 635 lbs.