STEM is a program within the school that identifies gifted students and extends their education to include project-based lessons that explore scientific and engineering principles.

This year in STEM, we have been looking at bridge designs and how they cope with the forces acting on them. We have researched the different types of bridges and the different types of stresses encountered.

To model this, teams of students were given 100 paddle pop sticks and some PVA glue. They were also given the design of a basic truss bridge that would span 40cm when constructed. Once completed, we took their bridges and suspended a container from each, filling the containers with weights until the bridges collapsed.

I am happy to report that there were no tears, despite the students getting to name their bridges before watching them get destroyed.

The students should be commended on all their hard work. The room was filled with genuine excitement when the bridges were finally crushed under all the weight.

The best bridge could hold and sustain over 66 kilograms of weight. Even though they all had the same design, small details in each bridge’s construction affected their performance.

The next step in our learning journey is for each student to research and design their own bridge using what they have learnt from this first experience. Hopefully, the improved designs used will result in bridges that hold even more weight than before.

I am going to need a bigger bucket…

Later this year, after the students have constructed their bridges, we plan to hold an evening of bridge breaking to celebrate their engineering achievements.

Next term, I will be taking a team of students to represent the school at the Northern Rivers Science and Engineering Challenge Day. Bridge building is the most prestigious activity on the day - that’s why I was inspired to conduct this unit with the STEM class. Last year, the whole auditorium at Southern Cross University was filled with teams from many schools in the area, all there to witness each others’ bridges breaking.

Hopefully, with their new-found knowledge on bridge building, our school will perform well this year. I will keep you all posted.

Article written and supplied by Anthony Amber - Head of STEM

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