A-Z STEM Saturday, B Is For Building Bridges

Bridges are a key element of our daily lives and a very impressive feat of engineering. They’re used to span rivers, chasms, roads, and other obstacles, in order to make transportation much easier.

Arch Bridges

Bridges are often admired for their beauty and grandeur, but they are more than just a pretty view-they serve an important purpose in our lives.

Learning about bridges is a great topic to help your students see how science works in the world around them, and there are a huge range of activities and experiments that can help them understand the principles behind bridge building.

We took a closer look at the best ways to teach children about bridges, and the facts that you need to know to deliver confident, exciting learning that catches attention for all the right reasons!

Designing Bridges

Designing a bridge is no easy task. It requires careful planning and calculations of forces and angles. The materials used to build a bridge must be carefully selected to ensure it can stand up to the elements and still support the weight of vehicles crossing it.

Once these considerations have been taken into account, construction can begin.

The process of building a bridge usually starts with setting up foundations in each bank so that the bridge has something stable on which to rest.

Steel or concrete girders are used as the superstructure of the bridge, and these are often supported by cables or trusses. The surface that vehicles drive on is known as the deck, and this may be made of concrete or asphalt.

Types Of Bridges

There are several different types of bridges, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Some of the main types of bridges include:

Arch Bridges

Arch bridges are one of the oldest and most recognizable types of bridge designs. They utilize the strength and stability of an arch shape to span a gap.

They usually consist of two abutment walls that support a curved beam, often made of brick or stone, with the road resting on top. These bridges are generally small in size and can be used to span smaller bodies of water or roads.

Suspension Bridges

Suspension bridges are large bridges made up of steel cables that hang down from towers and are anchored securely on both sides.

They are usually used to span larger bodies of water and can be found in many large cities around the world. The cables are held in tension by the heavy weight of the deck and provide extra strength to support the bridge’s weight.

Cable-Stayed Bridges

Cable-stayed bridges are similar to suspension bridges in that they use cables for support, but instead of the cables being anchored on both sides, they are attached to towers located along the bridge’s length.

The deck of these bridges is usually made of reinforced concrete, and the cables provide extra strength to hold up the weight of the deck.

Cantilever Bridges

As the name suggests, cantilever bridges are made up of two cantilevers, or beams, that are connected together in the middle.

The cantilevers extend out from each abutment wall, and they support the weight of the road deck. These bridges are usually used to span medium-sized bodies of water and roads.

Beam Bridges

Beam bridges are the most common type of bridge, and they can be used to span short distances. The beams support the weight of the road deck directly and are usually made of steel or concrete.

Learning About Bridges

Now that you know the basics about bridges, it’s time to get creative in the classroom! Here are some fun activities and experiments that will help your students explore this fascinating topic:

Build Your Own Bridge

One of the simplest and most enjoyable ways to learn about bridges is to build one! All you need are some craft supplies such as paper, tape, scissors, and glue. Encourage your students to work in teams and create their own unique bridge designs.

Once your students have designed their bridges, it’s time to put them to the test! Gather a variety of small objects such as coins, rocks, and marbles to use as weights. Ask your students to predict which bridge will hold the most weight before testing each one.

Bridge Drawing Challenge

To really challenge your students’ creativity, try having them draw their unique bridges, allowing their imaginations and creativity to run wild. Ask them to come up with a design for a bridge that could span a large body of water or cross a large valley.

Create Challenge Scenarios

Once your children are comfortable and familiar with the different types of bridges, it’s time to test their problem-solving skills.

Create a challenge scenario such as having them plan and design a bridge that can span a gorge or valley with limited resources, and increase the level of challenge by adding other obstacles such as a time limit or budget restrictions.

You can also set up several different challenge stations, and divide children into teams. Each team is given a brief, which includes details about the bridge they need to design.

They then have to plan and build a model of their bridge, test it out against other teams and, if there is time, can switch to try different challenge scenarios.

This is a great way for students to learn about creative problem-solving, teamwork, and engineering principles.

Explore Local And Famous Bridges

Finally, take your students out on a field trip to explore the bridges in your local area. This can be a great way for them to connect with engineering principles in their everyday environment and to see how different types of bridges are used.

You can also research famous bridges from around the world, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge, and Tower Bridge, to learn more about their history and design.

Final Thoughts

Building bridges is an important engineering skill and a great way for students to learn about physics, mathematics, and problem-solving.

With these activities and experiments, you can help your students explore the fascinating world of bridge engineering!

Suzy Anderson
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