A Real Life Story to Inspire a Bridge Challenge

One day, a long time ago, I saw a news bulletin that included a photo of children in Nepal crossing a river to get to school. They had a footbridge to use and one side of it had collapsed. The children moved their feet along a rope and clung to the remaining sections of the bridge with their hands. In this precarious way, the crossed the river.

I have never forgotten that image of those precious children clinging to a collapsed bridge, risking their lives to go to school.

Some years later I saw that the government of Nepal and private charitable organizations were building gliding bridges for these people. They would be able to sit in a glider box (think about a ski lift) and pull themselves along a rope to get to the other side.

Which then led to this STEM Challenge!
STEM Challenge: In Nepal, people in remote villages build a bridge that crosses rivers by installing a rope across the river. Dangling from the rope is a passenger carrier and once you are seated in the carrier the passengers pull on the rope to glide the carrier across the river. We decided to try to build a model of this gliding bridge! Check this blog post for more!
We have built a lot of bridges in STEM Class!
In fact, you can read more about bridges right here:

What is a Gliding Bridge?

We watched videos about the bridges in STEM class and then decided to try to build a model.
First, we had to decide what a gliding bridge is!

STEM Challenge: After a little research we determined that a gliding bridge is a rope pulley system that carries passengers across a river or canyon by means of the passengers themselves. Once seated in the carrier the passengers reach to the overhead ropes and pull until they have crossed over to the other side. Check this blog post for more!
After a little research, we determined that a gliding bridge is a rope pulley system that carries passengers across a river or canyon by means of the passengers themselves. Once seated in the carrier the passengers reach to the overhead ropes and pull until they have crossed over to the other side. What makes this work is two things: great supports on each side of the river and pulleys or some kind of ability for the rope to be easily pulled.

A good foundation is necessary!

STEM Challenge: Build a bridge. Knowing that the supports on each side of the river were very important led to the first decision each team had to make. They were given a choice of what material to use for their anchors on each side. Check this blog post for more!
Knowing that the supports on each side of the river were very important led to the first decision each team had to make. They were given a choice of what material to use for their anchors on each side. We used two lab tables that were about 2 feet apart for our river banks. The kids could choose from three types of foundations- rocky soil, sandy soil, or clay.

Can you also build the passenger car?

STEM Challenge: Build a passenger car for a bridge system. The next decision was the passenger carrier. What should it look like? Wow! We had so many different ways to cross that river! Our passengers were ping pong balls! Check this post for more!
The next decision was the passenger carrier. What should it look like? Wow! We had so many different ways to cross that river! Our passengers were ping pong balls! Again, the kids had to choose from available materials and decide how to build the carrier. Some of them chose craft sticks! What do you think happened when these carriers were tested? (Hint: They might have been heavy!)

Solving Problems

STEM Challenge: This challenge presented so many dilemmas! One of the biggest problems to solve had to do with connecting the "rope" for the pulley system. Kids learned very quickly that the rope had to be securely attached to the support on each side. Check this post for ore!
This challenge presented so many dilemmas! One of the biggest problems to solve had to do with connecting the "rope" for the pulley system. Kids learned very quickly that the rope had to be securely attached to the support on each side. Look at the clever ways they found to attach the rope! The photo on the bottom right is a pulley the team designed!

Now, put it all together! Will it work?

STEM Challenge: To test the final bridge system kids had to demonstrate a crossing. We all cheered if their passenger car made it across without a mishap! Check this blog post for more!
To test the final bridge system kids had to demonstrate a crossing. We all cheered if their passenger car made it across without a mishap! 

What a fabulous global lesson this turned out to be!
You can read more about this challenge {HERE}.

2 comments

  1. Awesome! What grade were you doing this challenge with? We're redoing our Science curriculum to match the NGSS and when we wrote our unit on wind and water erosion, we incorporated a bridge challenge where students had to choose a site for the bridge based on the soil composition and wind. The idea is to incorporate a gliding bridge, but for second grade, we're thinking of supplying the bridge and letting the kiddos focus on choosing the site and potentially building a wind break. Love your blog and wonderful ideas--they inspire me all the time!!

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    1. Thanks Lisa! I appreciate your kind words! This was completed with 4th graders, but if you help with the types of soil I Think your second graders would be amazing with this. The biggest problem you might have is that the soil containers can tip over. We learned that the hard way! Having your kids experiment with picking the right soil is a fabulous idea! Thanks again!

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