Balsa wood, PVA glue and sandpaper: ACT students build bridges to success

Students from Canberra’s Namadgi School built bridges to hold over 100kg with the help of TFA Associate Roisin.

Helping students to see the real-world applications of what they learn in science classes is a passion for many Teach For Australia Associates. Roisin Boadle (Cohort 2016), who teaches Maths and Science at Canberra’s Namadgi School, is no exception.

She recently mentored a group of Years 8 to 10 students through the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) Schools’ Bridge Building Competition, helping the students to successfully build balsa wood bridges which held over 130kg.

“Ahead of the competition, the students were issued with a kit by CIT,” Roisin said, “which contained balsa wood, PVA glue and some nails. They were allowed to use saws, sandpaper and hammers to build, but nothing else.”

Their task was to build a bridge which was a metre long and 15cm wide. It had to be able to support a ‘roadway’ for a toy car to pass over, and to be able to hold a lot of weight.


The students with their bridges

“During the competition, the bridges were tested to destruction with weights on hanging supports below,” Roisin said.

The students worked outside of normal lesson time to prepare for the heats, which were held in June. They researched bridge building techniques and designs, assessing forces and creating scale drawings.

“I really enjoyed building something with my teammates,” said Year 9 student Natasha, “and then working to make our prototype even better with the help of our peers and our amazing teacher.”

During the heats, the team from Namadgi were the overall winners.

They also took home the ‘Strength Award’ (for the bridge which supported most weight) and the ‘Efficiency Award’ (for the best weight held to bridge weight ratio).


The Namadgi students with their bridges and certificates at the heats

“After the heats, we watched all the competition videos and assessed which bridges had failed. We discussed and researched ways that the students could strengthen their bridges for the finals,” said Roisin.

Making it to the Grand Final at CIT was a huge moment for the students:

“It felt as if I was flying and it got even better when our score for the Grand Final was more than triple our heats score!” said Natasha.

“It was very scary and at first I was worried about how we would go,” she said, “but in the end we just blitzed through with smiles on our faces. Nothing could stop us from enjoying the experience!”

Roisin said that the whole project was very much student led. Because the students were in teams which spanned year groups, they had to work out how to delegate and plan together in very short time-frames.


The students rebuild their bridges for the Grand Final

“It was brilliant to see their passion and enthusiasm shining through,” said Roisin.

“The kids were so excited and enthusiastic. They ran around the school showing all the teachers and students their awards from the heats!”

The project really gave the students the opportunity to push themselves and tackle difficult problems. Despite not winning any awards in the Grand Finals, the team felt a real sense of pride in their work and were passionate about what they had created.

“It was a wonderful experience,” said Natasha, “and I will be the first to sign up for it again next year!”

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