Engineering & Design

Bridge Design and Construction for Middle Schoolers

General Info

Created BySimone Ferdinand
SchoolMiddle School
LocationLexington, MA
RolePublic School Teacher Training

About the Lesson

Subject Area
Lesson/UnitBridge Design & Construction

Using the QFT

Place in the Unit/LessonBeginning
Brief description of the unitStudents learn about the four basic bridge designs and the types of forces and loads they experience. They use simulation software to design different bridges and finally design, build and test a model bridge made out of common materials.
Final QFocus“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near, “You are wasting your strength with building here; Your journey will end with the ending day, You never again will pass this way; You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide, Why build this bridge at evening tide?”

Student Work

Student Questions

Priority questions in bold

Group 1

  1. Why was the old man crossing the river
  2. What does sullen mean?
  3. How did he build the bridge?
  4. Why did he turn?
  5. What did he use the build the bridge? 
  6. How wide was the stream?
  7. Why would a sullen stream have fear for him?
  8. How did he cross the stream in the first place?
  9. Why was he crossing the stream in the twilight dim?
  10. How old was he?
  11. Was the stream cold?
  12. What does “span the tide” mean?
  13. How deep was the stream?
  14. What type of bridge did he build?
  15. Did the old man cross the river?
  16. What type of bridge did he build and why did he pick that type? 
  17. Why was the old man crossing the river? 

Group 2

  1. Why was the old man crossing? 
  2. How did the old man cross the stream?
  3. How old is the man?
  4. What type of bridge did the old man build?
  5. How did the man build the bridge?
  6. What was the bridge made up?
  7. Was the bridge successful? 
  8. How big was the bridge?
  9. How fast was the river moving?
  10. What shape was the bridge?
  11. Where was the stream?
  12. Where was the bridge on the stream?
  13. Who is the old man?
  14. Did the old man build it all by himself?
  15. What’s the weight capacity of the bridge?
  16. What does “sullen” mean?
  17. How wide was the stream?
  18. Was there fish in the stream?
  19. Did the old man go fishing in the stream?
  20. Why is there a stream where the stream is?
  21. Does “sullen” mean apples?

Group 3

  1. How’d he get across?
  2. Why is it so poetic?
  3. Metaphor?
  4. What did he build the bridge out of?
  5. What’s the tide?
  6. Why did the stream have no fear?
  7. Why did he cross in the twilight dim?
  8. Why was he safe on the other side?
  9. What’s an alien?
  10. Did he die?
  11. How long did it take to build the bridge?
  12. Like how old was the man?
  13. How much did he weigh?
  14. How much did the bridge hold? 
  15. Was he fat?
  16. How long did it take to cross the bridge?
  17. Make the bridge? (Teacher comment: I think this is How long did it take to make the bridge?)
  18. How deep was the water?
  19. Why did he build the bridge?
  20. Did he have a family? Religion?
  21. Was there a troll?
  22. What did he build it out of and how did he get those materials?
  23. Did he get across?

How did Students Use their Questions

The questions will be used to design an assignment in which students create presentations about a bridge that they have selected to research.

What were your prioritization instructions?

Class 1: Choose three questions that are directly or indirectly about the bridge in the poem that most interest you. Classes 2 and 3: Choose three questions you would be most interested in investigating about the bridge in the poem.

Student Comments

Students drew on experiences from other classes where they have used the QFT to explain that asking questions can trigger and expand your thinking on a topic.

Teacher Reflections

Students came up with a wide variety of questions (evidence of divergent thinking). Many of their questions are relevant questions for bridge design (How wide was the stream? How deep was the stream? What type of bridge did he build?) and some students tried to use bridge vocabulary they picked up from the unit pre-test.

Students came up with many questions and built on their questions via the process (ex.: ‘What did he build the bridge out of?’ became ‘What did he build it out of and how did he get those materials?’)

I think the choice of QFocus went well. It stimulated a lot of discussion and led students to ask questions that are very clearly related to bridge design (material choice, type of bridge) as well as ‘big picture’ questions that might seem tangential but are actually very important (about the person who built the bridge and the purpose and location of the bridge, for instance).

I like using a written reflection because I am less likely to forget to do it and I think the students take more time to reflect if they have to write their answers.