Idea of the Month

Every month, we post a new idea for engaging effectively within education!

Idea of the Month 1.5.19

Bridges are very important to the rail industry. Without them we couldn’t get our train tracks (and trains) across rivers, valleys or roads. There are all sorts of different styles of bridges – keep a look out when you are travelling around – but today we have a challenge for you!

Can you build a bridge that holds 100 pennies, using 1 sheet of paper and 5 paper clips?

What You Will Need:
• plain paper
• 5 paper clips
• ruler
• 2 books or blocks
• at least 100 pennies or other small weights
• scissors

The Rules:
The bridge must support its own weight (the dead load) as well as the weight of anything placed on it, like the pennies (the live load). Your paper bridge must be at least 20 centimetres long. The sides of your bridge will rest on two books and you aren’t allowed to use any tape!

Make a Plan:
Describe how you think the bridge should be constructed in order to support its dead load plus the live load of the pennies.

Try It Out:
1. Discuss possible ideas with your group before you start building. What can you do to the paper to make it stronger? When you have decided on a design, construct your bridge.
2. Place the bridge across two supports that are 20 cm apart. Remember that the space below the bridge must be clear to allow boats or cars to pass!
3. To test your bridge, load it with pennies one at a time, until it collapses. Record how many pennies your bridge supported.

Explain It:
Describe how well your bridge supported its dead load (the bridge) and the live load (the pennies) you placed on it. Was the bridge as strong as you thought it would be? Where did it fail?

Build on It:
Redesign your bridge and test it again, using a new sheet of paper. How does your second attempt compare? How can engineers test their plans for building a full-size bridge?

Helpful Hint: