Engineering Students to Build Life-Size Truss Bridge on Campus

On the morning of January 7, Middle School and Upper School students gathered for special Chapel services outside Becker Library for the dedication and blessing of the school’s new HOPE tree, which will serve as a meaningful reminder of our yearlong Engineering and Physics Instructor Danielle Horton routinely provides students with hands-on learning opportunities, such as building truss bridges with spaghetti noodles and hot glue. This spring her students will have the opportunity to recreate this class project for the real world and build a full-size truss bridge on campus.
While studying bridges, Horton’s students research 15 to 20 different trusses, trace their paths of force, discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each, and mathematically solve for different weight loads using varying joint designs. Her students then design their own bridges with a computer drawing program and build a small 3D version with pasta for testing and analysis. Now they will use this knowledge to build a full-size structure.

In early December, after working with Director of Outdoor Education Charlton Perry to identify a spot on campus in need of a bridge, Horton took her engineering classes out to examine the area. They will now work together to design, model and test a prototype, and then build the actual structure. The final bridge will span 20 feet and sit 4 feet above a creek bed.
“The parameters are different from spaghetti bridges but the concepts are the same, so students can easily adapt their designs to this outdoor space,” explained Horton, who will document her students’ progress throughout spring term.
“This is a neat way to extend student learning from the classroom to the real world,” she added.
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