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Eighth grade bridges falling down

Kenny Kenyon set the stick and wire model of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge he had spent a couple weeks constructing on a platform. He stepped back as Lowell Middle School teacher Joe Keglovitz attached a chain that held 190 pounds of weight plates.

Kylei Schmid’s design, modeled after the Sydney Harbor bridge in Australia, tied for first place with Keegan Cisler in the second round of testing

“Feel the tension?” Keglovitz asked the eighth grader as he slowly turned a crank that transferred more and more of the weight from a metal lift to Kenny’s model. 

“It’s gone,” sighed Kenny about a second before an audible snap that sent wood flying.

“That’s why we practice our duck and cover drills,” joked-but-not-joked Keglovitz.

For the second year, eighth graders in Keglovitz’s two STEM classes took on the challenge of building bridges and testing the strength of their creations. 

It’s a project designed to fail, he explained.

Winner Josh Smith suspends himself from his bridge surrounded by classmates (courtesy)

“It’s not about the building of the bridges as much as it’s about researching and testing and trying again. By doing this, one of the best skills they take away is learning from failure.” 

Keegan Cisler’s design was modeled after the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia

Prior to construction, students were randomly assigned to construct scale models of one of 14 bridges around the world. Various designs were used including truss, cantilever and suspension. 

After researching their bridge and noting heights, lengths and angles, the budding engineers used 3D modeling software to scale the longest span for construction. Students then transferred the span from the computer to a rough draft blueprint.

Each builder was provided the same basic materials to emphasize the importance of the construction process and attention to detail.

video credit: Austin Earcheta
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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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