Oak Heights third-graders build bridges to learning

Scott Swanson

Cheryl Jones was pretty proud of her third-graders at Oak Heights School last week after they came back with an assignment she’d given them to build bridges – real ones, out of whatever they could find around the house.

“We were reading “Pop’s Bridge” out of our Journeys curriculum and we were learning about bridges,” she said, adding that the class discussed the 1989 “Earthquake” World Series (which was interrupted by the Loma Prieta earthquake that flattened sections of the Bay Bridge’s upper deck between Oakland and San Francisco) and about how earthquakes affect bridges.

“So they’re learning about arch bridges, truss bridges, bridge structure and all that good stuff.”

Jones said she told the students they could get help from their parents, because she wanted the families to work together.

“I told the entire class that we had materials in class that they would be able to use, but none of the kids that made them asked for materials. They said they’d find scraps at home.”

After several days the students returned with their creations, which were then judged by the class.

Jones said they didn’t submit the bridges to weight-bearing tests – “no load-bearing, anything like that.”

First-place winners were Brody Carr, Dawsen Pruitt and Kim Banta.

Brody, 9, said he had “sort of had an idea, and then it hit, like, at 10:35.”

He slept on it, he said, and then created an elaborate truss-style bridge of popsicle sticks with some help from his dad. The project took them about 2½ hours, Brody said.

Dawson’s was a cable-stayed style, complete with some Matchbox cars, with dowels as towers and the deck cut to fit snugly around them.

“I had help from my dad,” he said, adding that it took about 3½ hours to do the job. “Because we had to build everything.”

Dawson, 8, said it was their first time building a bridge, noting that his dad has “helped build a bridge cuz he’s a construction worker.”

Kim’s bridge, a truss style built entirely of cardboard, had a compartment underneath the deck in which she had stashed a rubber duckie, some figurines and had some cars mounted above and below.

This was her second effort, said Kim, 8.

“I made a different one, but I didn’t like it,” she said. “So I made a new one with my mom. I thought of the idea and I drew it out on a piece of paper. I kind of got it from another bridge that I saw.”

Jones said that the children had seen various examples of bridges as they went through the unit, but she was pleased with the results, noting that even though the children are not necessarily STEM students, it was a STEM project.

“It kind of helps identify those kids who are wanting to go above and beyond,” she said. “They had a lot of fun with it.”