Bridging the STEM Connection Across Grade Levels

annamcgowan3Anna McGowan is a K-8 STEM Teacher at Sauganash Elementary School in Chicago.  Her students recently participated in a unit of study on bridges. With their studies, they learned about tension and compression. As a culminating activity, STEM students of all ages began to build!

The task was to design and fabricate bridge models of different structural types.   The models represented different types of bridge design, architecture, and construction methods. Students were expected to show their understanding of tension and compression and support their research with each design. This endeavor looked quite different with each class as ages ranged from kindergarten to eighth grade.  Differentiation was a solid component of Anna’s STEM lessons, as she delivered the unit’s content to various age groups.

Kindergarten through second grade classes learned about only four types of bridges.  They studied the Arch, Beam, Suspension, and Truss while touching on the concepts of tension and compression.  Toothpicks and marshmallows were used to create a bridge of their choice.

Older students were challenged to bring in their own materials.  Cardboard, popsicle sticks and other reusable objects were collected.  These students studied 7 types of bridges within the unit.  Their studies were a little more in depth as they investigated definitions, history, design, construction, and elements. They turned their findings into presentations prior to the actual construction process.


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Anna states, “The engagement level was stratospheric at all grade levels!” She also talks about how the various ability levels were not a factor.  All students created very unique structures that displayed their understanding.  McGowan feels the kinesthetic experience developed a higher level of comprehension that simply could not be replicated in a book, lecture, or video.

These bridge structures are currently being showcased in the hallways of Sauganash Elementary.  They will also be on display soon at the school’s Science Night. To read more about Anna’s adventures in STEM, visit her website.