St Mary's CE Primary

Building Bridges: Weigh to good or a bridge too far?

Subject: Design and Technology
Age: Primary
Students: 390 pupils

Location: London
Year: 2011
Grant: £2017

Teacher: Mrs Ann Turner
Scientist: Mr Andrew Hanson, National Physical Laboratory

Living in London, with so many bridges over the Thames, this project enabled pupils to learn more about the fundamental engineering principles of structures they experience every day, but may take for granted. They then set to work on designing and building their own bridge out of recycled newspapers that would be strong enough to support a pupil!

St Mary's CE Primary School talk about their project (3 mins).

With the aid of Partnership Grant funding, a group of Year 6 pupils went on a trip to see Tower Bridge with Andrew Hanson, one of the Partner Scientists from the National Physical Laboratory. They visited the exhibition, took part in a quiz and later enjoyed sketching the bridge, during which time they were lucky enough to see it open not only once, but twice!   Back at school, they got to work on constructing their own bridge out of rods of recycled newspapers. They used a STIXX machine funded by the Partnership Grant to help them with rolling their newspaper rods and were assisted in this process by their STIXX supplier, Jeremy King. Other children in Years 5 and 6 also undertook trial work rolling newspaper rods of different thicknesses. These were then sent to Dr Nick McCormick and the Engineering Workshop staff at the National Physical Laboratory, who analysed the weight bearing properties of the STIXX and undertook joint investigations.

I thought it was awesome and quite amazing how much we learned about bridges.
Pupil.

By loading in flexion, compression and tension; investigating the behaviour of different rod thicknesses and constructing a bridge prototype, Dr McCormick and his colleagues were then able to provide the school with detailed analyses of the capabilities of the rods. These analyses enabled pupils to calculate how much load they could expect their bridge design to take. Year 6 pupils were also invited by Mr Hanson to visit him at the National Physics Laboratory, where he told them more about the history and work of the National Physics Laboratory and showed them a footbridge which is currently being investigated by using up to 200 sensors. The Scientists were very impressed with the pupils’ enthusiasm and level of questioning while talking with the scientists working on the footbridge and pupils found that this opportunity really helped them understand the complexity of investigations. Pupils were also given the opportunity to see their rods being tested and Years 3 and 6 were then loaned this equipment from the National Physics Laboratory so that they could replicate these tests themselves. Pupils were very excited to be given access to this equipment, which made them feel like ‘real scientists’!

Lots of people involved in the Bridges project!

Meanwhile, a ‘design a bridge’ competition was held for KS2 pupils, resulting in some very aesthetically appealing designs. In the infants and juniors groups, the children were involved in making and testing bridges with materials provided by the Partnership Grant funding. Pupils in Year 2 made bridge constructions out of card and loaded them, while some Year 4 children investigated cantilevers. Groups of year 6 pupils also looked at stable shapes and undertook small-scale bridge design, build and static load testing. Pupils enjoyed recording their investigations and were very keen to present their findings. Based on their evaluation of these findings and in discussion with the Mr Hanson, the final bridge design was then constructed by groups of year 5 and 6 children. They were subsequently delighted when a year 6 pupil was able to stand on the completed bridge!

My son has been really inspired by this project. He has pointed out bridges and the truss supports that we have never really noticed before.
Parent of pupil.

Following their successful build, Year 6 pupils produced posters explaining the different types of bridges and giving examples from around the world. They also created bridge artwork based upon paintings by various artists and made sketches of bridges around the school’s locality. Their efforts culminated in an exhibition hosted by the school, entitled ‘St Mary’s Bridge to the Community’, where pupils from neighbouring schools, along with parents, governors, teachers and a Royal Society representative, enjoyed learning more about the project. The Year 6 pupils enjoyed presenting their findings to Year 7 pupils from a secondary school nearby, who were so inspired by the discussion that they now intend to continue the project at Secondary level.  St Mary’s will also be sending a short film they made of their activities to other schools in the area, consequently developing further links with these schools and hopefully inspiring other small-scale engineering activities. In order to assist them in their projects, St Mary’s has also kindly offered to share their STIXX resource for any workshop activities. The Scientists at the National Physics Laboratory also hope to invite more pupils from other years to visit them in the near future so they can continue to share their expertise with pupils and teachers.