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Bridge building challenge

Work in teams to build the longest bridge possible from a defined collection of common materials. Teams present their various creative solutions to solving the same problem.
Science content (2016 curriculum): 
Physics: Motion and Forces, Newton’s Laws, Gravity (K, 2, 6)
  • Two chairs with their backs facing inwards, for each group
  • Tray for each group to collect materials
  • Materials for each group (materials can be in bulk bins for students to collect, or already assembled in kits): 2 clothes pegs, 1 chopstick, 3 pipe cleaners, 2 paper clips, 2 index cards, 2 labels/pieces of tape, 6 toothpicks, 1 cork, 3 straws, 2 sheets of letter sized paper, other available recycled materials

Introduce the challenge:
Tell students that they will be using everyday materials to build the longest bridge they can between two chairs, using the materials provided. They can only use the materials provided, and cannot get any additions/replacements.
They should investigate and manipulate the materials to see the different ways they could be used. Materials can be opened up, torn or broken if the students wish.
Students should be encouraged to use the materials in creative and novel ways.

Hands-on activity:
Students are instructed on how to collect the materials they need from the kit (or they can use the Building Challenge instructions sheet).
Students need at least half an hour on their bridges. Longer, possibly over two periods, is best.
Students can present how they used their materials to other groups after working on them for a while, to encourage ideas to flow between different groups. Highlight creative ways that materials have been used to make the bridge longer/fasten materials together etc.
After the bridges have been completed and viewed, return the materials to the kit, sorted into their bags, so that they can be used again.


Other ideas for building challenges:
1. Build a structure as high as you can. Materials for each group: 15 sheet of paper.
2. Build a freestanding tower that is as tall as possible. Materials for each group (adapt if necessary): 10 toothpicks, 4 plastic spoons, 4 pieces of tape, 60cm string, 2 elastic bands, 6 paper clips, 2 paper cups, 2 pieces of paper, 4 chopsticks/pencils, 1 piece of foil, 4 straws.
3. Build a structure with a solid roof and at least one solid side, that one team member can get inside. Materials: 20 sheets of newspaper, 5 pieces of tape, 5 paperclips

Grades taught: 
Gr 2
Gr 3
Gr 4
Gr 5
Mona Francis
Ramona Smith
Teaching site: 
Champlain Heights Annex
ingridscience afterschool
JEMZ+ After school science