A long line of children walked by the window, each carrying a board, following their teachers like ducklings. What were they doing?
These Upper Elementary students worked worked long and hard on a bridge project. Last year, through a study of engineering, they arrived at the idea of building a bridge across the creek in the woods. They worked with the facilities manager, parent engineers and their teachers to determine how they could cross the creek without hopping from rock to rock. Their initial project was lofty indeed, the Golden Gate Bridge over Perkins Run Creek. As it became clear this was an engineering marvel and beyond the scope of their expertise, they adjusted the scope of the project to one more manageable by 9- through 12-year-olds. Two weeks ago, they built a bridge that will be used by our students and campers throughout the year. They achieved their goal.
An idea has been turned into a product, and the children could not be more proud of their efforts. Some may look at this project as an extra that has little to do with the curriculum. Others may note that the “soft skills” of organization, team work, time and materials management that were all a part of this work. Still others may look beyond and see more deeply into the learning that is happening. Students saw a real world problem – crossing the creek on our campus safely and with dry feet – and worked to find a solution. There were obstacles in their way. How would they pay for the materials? Is there a building code that allows or prohibits such construction? How would it affect our liability for people crossing the bridge and using our property? How much weight can a bridge of this sort hold? How will we ensure bridge crossers’ safety?
This project taught so many lessons. It began with STEAM education and, in the end, furthered many more academic and social learning goals. This is project-based learning at its best. The bridge allowed students to use their own strengths and rely on others’ strengths to further the goal. They sought experts who could help them and let them teach them what they needed to learn. And they built bridges with each other, the community and across the creek.