Gateway: Living

Breaking bridges a positive experience for Minter Creek students

Fifth-graders Sophie Dzyban and Olivia Simmonds apply pressure to their bridge via a bridge testing machine before it fails at 26.60 pounds per square inch.
Fifth-graders Sophie Dzyban and Olivia Simmonds apply pressure to their bridge via a bridge testing machine before it fails at 26.60 pounds per square inch. Special to the Gateway

It was teacher Laura Stafki who gave me the tip.

“Bridge Busting,” she said.

I hadn’t a clue what it was all about but promised to be there, camera in hand. “What room at Vaughn Elementary?” I asked. It was then that I learned Laura had transferred to Minter Creek Elementary where, with husband Jeff and others, a team had been formed for “Bridges.”

Fifth grade Minter students designed and built with Popsicle sticks and glue a plethora of bridge designs, no two the same. I saw that all were individually subjected to pressure tests on a one-of-a-kind machine on which the kids mounted their bridges, then pumped until the machine’s pressure exceeded the bridge’s strength and they collapsed.

Ed Bressette, facilities director of YMCA Camp Seymour with his son, Skye, a senior at Peninsula High, worked to bring this program to the students of Peninsula School District at no cost to students or schools. It was Bressette who constructed the machine that tested the bridges during the event at Minter Elementary.

“Bridge building is a wonderful opportunity to connect with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math),” Minter Principal Tyler Robuck said. “I appreciate how my fifth grade team connected with outside agencies in the community, Ed Bresett from Camp Seymour and Aaron Miller from Key Peninsula Middle School, to support this process. Students learned so much and will continue to grow as they take what they learned and reconstruct their bridges for a second chance. I am honored to work with such a dedicated group of teachers.”

As am I!

Of Minter fifth-graders who participated in the program, Sierra Garlick, said, “I am very crafty and I really enjoyed building the bridges. Although my bridge didn’t hold much weight, I am excited to get to work rebuilding it and fix where I went wrong.”

Classmate Faith Smith “learned how to make a stronger structure and a better deck and stronger trusses.” She enjoyed seeing how many pounds of force each bridge held.

“I learned from building bridges that you learn from failure,” said fifth-grader Carly Clemo. “I enjoyed watching people learn from their mistakes.”

“I realized that it takes a long time to build a bridge,” said classmate David Takehara. “I learned that you want to use triangles rather than squares and that there are many different types of bridges. Some of the things you have to think about when building your bridge are tension and compression. These are the pushes and pulls on a bridge.”

Students spent a month constructing and testing various bridge designs, said teacher Jeff Stafki.

“Eventually these bridges were placed into the breaking machine to test the amount of force each bridge could withstand,” he said. “Students analyzed structural weaknesses of their bridges and will rebuild them and retest them in January.”

Aaron Miller, son of Key Peninsula Middle School science teacher Richard Miller, developed the software that measured the force and breaking strength of the bridges. His software immediately uploads this data to the web so that students can see their results in real time on an overhead screen.

A pretty exciting learning experience for all involved — including me.

Hugh McMillan is a longtime contributing writer for the Gateway. He can be reached at