I love literature and am always looking for ways to incorporate it into my lessons. So, when I came across this bridge building activity, I couldn’t wait to give it a try!
Going through Pinterest, I discovered the activity, “Build a Bridge for 21 Elephants” and knew I HAD to try this! The book is a true story about the 14-year construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. When it was finally completed, the people of New York and Brooklyn were worried that this grand feat wouldn’t be strong enough to withstand people traveling across it. To convince the citizens, P.T. Barnum, (creator of “The Greatest Show on Earth), figured out a way to show everyone just how well-built this bridge was. He took his 21 circus elephants all the way across the Brooklyn Bridge and it was still standing when the last one crossed! Click here to see a reading of the book on YouTube.
I purchased the book and the jungle counters (a collection of various animals; couldn’t find just elephants) from Amazon and then used supplies I had on hand. The above post tells about doing the activity with a 4 year old. I decided to try it with 2nd graders even though I was concerned that it might be too easy. It turned out to be a fantastic activity!
Using a design thinking approach, we began with the story. Learning that it was true thrilled the students, especially due to the popularity of The Greatest Showman movie, released in 2017. I gave the task to the students:
Steps followed in the building process
The students returned to the tables where I had them think (no talking) about a bridge design for about 30 seconds. The next step was to sketch their idea. I was amazed at their drawings – lots of detail!
Working in groups, the hardest task was discussing all the designs and deciding on which to build. Of course, students were always free to reassess, alter, and completely change their design (and some did just that).
Materials provided for building:
- craft sticks
- about a yard of masking tape
- plastic cups
- Crystal Light containers
- construction paper
- small tubs (these used to have modeling dough in them)
Then the building began! Walking around to observe and question students provides tremendous insight into the thought processes that occur throughout the activity. Add in the use of Seesaw, where the children took a photo then reflected on the process and a teacher gains a tremendous amount of information of how the groups worked through the challenge.
Listen to this group calmly announce that “First we messed up.” They weren’t bothered one bit that the bridge didn’t work as expected after the first try. I LOVE this!
I am SO glad I came across this challenge! As mentioned at the beginning of the post, I was seriously concerned that this would be much too easy. After listening to the conversations and seeing the intricate designs the students drew, spending time on this was worth every minute!
Will this work with a younger grade? I can’t wait to give it a try!