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Dover Post
  • DelDOT engineers educate Lake Forest students on bridge design

  • Cindy Westhoff's second-grade classroom was the site of some bridge construction on Friday afternoon. A group of seven second-graders fiddled with the design of their model suspension bridge, adjusting a straw here and tweaking some twine there. The students were prepping their model before it was put to the test to see how m...
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  • Cindy Westhoff's second-grade classroom was the site of some bridge construction on Friday afternoon. A group of seven second-graders fiddled with the design of their model suspension bridge, adjusting a straw here and tweaking some twine there. The students were prepping their model before it was put to the test to see how much weight it could hold. The whole event was to be overseen by two engineers from the Delaware Department of Transportation, who had come in to teach the students about bridges.
    As part of Delaware standards second-graders now learn about bridge construction and the design process and are given the challenge of building their own bridge. As a part of their unit on bridges the Delaware Department of Transportation arranged to have two civil engineers visit Westhoff's class and talk to the students about the basics of bridges.
    Learning to build bridges teaches students more than first meets the eye, according to Craig Stevens, a project manager in DelDOT's bridge design section, who was brought in to talk to students.
    "By exposing them to engineering, as opposed to just math, they're taking the principals of math and creating something," Stevens said. "They're seeing why the subject's actually being used and how it can be used in the real world."
    Stevens and DelDOT civil engineer Nick Dean made a presentation to students on Friday outlining some bridge statistics, what bridges can be used for and what types of bridges there are. Following the presentation, students tested the strength of their model suspension bridge. The student's bridge, constructed with tape, straws, string, popsicle sticks, copy paper and notecards, was able to support the weight of 192 hardware nuts.
    Learning about how bridges are built helps students to think more creatively, according to Westhoff.
    "At first I was thinking, 'how are 7-year-olds going to think like an engineer,'" Westhoff said. "But obviously given some time and basic material they are learning team work, about the design process and how the design process can be used to build a strong bridge."
    The design process requires students to ask questions, imagine what they're going to build, make a plan with a drawing, create the bridge and make improvements.
    "Learning the design process helps students understand the thought behind structure," Westhoff said "I think that it helps them understand that those bridges don't just appear there, that there's a lot of effort, a lot of thought and a lot of money that goes into building them."
    The design process became an important tool for students because in some cases they were simply given a kit containing paper and popsicle sticks and told to figure out a way to make a bridge that a ship could sail under, Westhoff said.
    Page 2 of 2 - "I think that children are so used to us telling them what to do that if we step back and give them the opportunity to come up with design and plan they really can show us what they already know," Westhoff said. "They can show us how they can solve their own problems."
    Allison Wyman was one of the students that participated in the bridge design lesson on Friday. Wyman enjoyed building model bridges because she enjoyed working with a team, she said.
    "My favorite part was making the cables because it's fun to make them hang," Wyman said. "This is something I would want to do when I grow up because its sounds like a fun job."
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