West Bristol K-8 School fourth-graders show their bridge-designing skills

Published on Monday, 11 June 2018 22:30


BRISTOL - West Bristol K-8 School held its Makerspace Bridge Design Challenge recently with four teams proceeding to a Free Style Design Challenge. The pupils used KEVA Planks that the school purchased with grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the 3M Corp.

The event was part of the school’s Full STEAM Ahead Makerspace Adventure pilot program for fourth grade.

Fourth-grader Arianna Caron, who was a project manager for her team, exhibited “grace under pressure” during the competition by giving one of her teammates a “pep talk,” according to Judy Michaud, school library media clerk.

“The teammate wasn’t participating because she was feeling as though her talents were being acknowledged unfairly. Arianna, being a patient and calming factor for her team, validated her teammate with great care and encouraged her to share her strengths with the group,” Michaud said.

The bridge competition had its roots last October, when the West Bristol School Media Center wanted to pilot a “Makerspace” in the library “that wouldn’t break the bank, but nevertheless still provide fun and have meaningful impact on their students,” she said.

The Makerspace movement embraces creativity and curiosity with the focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), she explained. “Like a lot of schools and libraries, West Bristol added the A to STEM, and made STEAM, which means that they included an Art component to their plans. Like most newly conceived ideas, money was the necessary factor to launch the program.”

Then there’s the website DonorsChoose.org, which allows schools to raise awareness and collect donations to fund educational projects. Michaud said. The school media center set up a DonorsChoose page to fundraise to buy two 800-piece KEVA Planks sets, which are versatile maple building blocks popular for use in classrooms.

“In less than a month, donations came pouring in from parents, friends, and the likes of the 3M Corp. of Connecticut and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who were staunch supporters of all things STEM,” she said. “Once the KEVA Planks were acquired, the next step was to develop an idea for the students that would keep them engaged and excited for many months.”

The idea the school came up with was a series of engineering lessons and activities, focusing mainly on bridges. Fourth-grade teacher Cindy Ahern enthusiastically embraced the idea of having her students involved in a STEAM program, which eventually led to the entire fourth-grade team getting involved.

After months of thematic worksheets, lessons, hands-on activities, and team-building challenges, the culminating project was revealed to the fourth-graders: The bridge building competition.

Each classroom was broken up into four teams, with each assigned a student project manager who could delegate work and maintain harmony with his/her teammates. Each team was also assigned an inspector whose job was to assess the integrity of their project and report to the project manager if any changes needed to be implemented.

Each group was given a packet describing a fictional client with very specific needs for the construction of a bridge. Teams needed to determine what type of bridge to construct, factoring in the weather and location of their client’s bridge. Students were informed that their bridge would be constructed in Nebraska and that it was not only in Tornado Alley, but because the state had experienced a record amount of small earthquakes in 2018 they would have to factor in those types of elements when designing.

The students also needed to determine if their client wanted a design that was artistic versus functional. Taking all the variables into account, the teams proceeded to construct their bridges, with a one hour time limit.

The winning team was called Beast Mode, composed of students Jayyden Ruiz, Yederiel Ocasio, Victor Boyd, Judy Dell’Aera and Evan Gudaitis.

“As for Ariana’s team, their bridge suffered a catastrophic loss as one side of it collapsed during her pep talk,” Michaud said. “In true non-defeatist mode, Arianna continued to wear her project manager title proudly, and regrouped her team to the finish line.”

Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or scorica@bristolpress.com.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol on Monday, 11 June 2018 22:30. Updated: Monday, 11 June 2018 22:32.