Collaborative Bridges Building bridges with second grade

A few weeks ago, on our way to an assembly in the RAC, we passed by the second grade classrooms and saw some bridges they had built on display in the hallway! This was before our class really started studying bridges, but we noticed them right away and many of the kids stopped to take a closer look at their intricate work.

This week, we had the exciting opportunity collaborate with these second graders! On Thursday and Friday morning, a group of 12 second graders joined our class and worked in small groups with our preschool friends to build bridges using marshmallows and toothpicks. Since the second graders had already done this activity, we called them the "bridge experts" and I asked them to be the leaders of the project. Walking around the room, I heard them asking questions like, "What kind of bridge do you want to build?" and explaining to our younger friends that they "need to build a strong base first." This was a great leadership opportunity for them and an equally as important lesson for our preschoolers in teamwork.

After I separated our friends into small groups, I asked the groups to make sure they introduced themselves to each other. Our kids were so excited to work with older Stanley Clark students - it was almost like they were star struck!

Will and Emilia introduce themselves to their group.

On Thursday, our first day of building, the kids explored the materials and learned how to connect the toothpicks using the marshmallows. Our "experts" were a great help in teaching this technique! The only limits I put on their building was that they needed to build a bridge and they needed to work together to do so. Our friends got started right away!

Some groups had one structure in the middle of the table and they all added to it.

Other groups decided what parts of the bridge they needed to build and then assigned roles to each member. "We'll work on the base," Grace and her sister Michelle told their group.

Adam and Ethan started working on the "beams for support."

"They are working on the bottom and Inaya and I are working on the top," Lucas showed me. "Then we will connect it all together," he smiled.

I walked over to Emilia and Will's group and found all four of the members of their group giggling. "We asked Emilia and Will what kind of bridge they wanted to make and they both shouted 'BEAM BRIDGE' at the exact same time!" the second graders they were working with explained. "Yeah, good thing we both really love beam bridges!" Will laughed.

As the kids were working, they made many discoveries about what methods worked best to make their bridge strong. I watched as many friends struggled through their first and sometimes even second and third attempts at getting their bridge to stand up. I was prepared for the potential of a few tears at this point, but our friends surprised me with their persistence through this task. It was a proud teacher moment to see only faces of intense concentration and deep thinking - no tears, no frustration, and no quitting.

After about thirty minutes of building, I walked around and took pictures of the groups with their finished products!

"We made a beam bridge."
"We wanted to make an arch bridge. It was kind of hard because the toothpicks are straight, but see, here's the tunnel."
"We made a truss bridge!"
"Here's our arch bridge!"
"We made a beam bridge."
"We have two different beam bridges."

I asked the kids to put their bridges on display on their table and everyone walked around the room and admired each other's work. It was so nice to hear little voices complimenting each other's ideas! "Wow!! Look at Aiden and Clayton's bridge! It's so big!!!" David shouted.

Some of our creations on display after they were finished!
Aiden and Clayton's truss bridge.

After the second graders went back to class, we gathered on the carpet and discussed what we learned while exploring these materials. Everyone agreed on two general understandings. First, building triangles as a base shape worked better than using squares. "That's a truss!" Aiden reminded us. Second, many areas of the bridge were stronger when more than one toothpick was used for support. "Like a beam bridge. One toothpick is too wobbly," Emilia explained her thinking to us.

On Friday morning, the other half of the second grade class came to build with us. This time, it was obvious that our friends felt like experts, too. I challenged the kids to build a bridge that was stronger than the bridge they had made the previous day. "YES! I love challenge bridges!" Lucas was literally bursting with excitement.

"See the triangles. We need that!" Clayton showed his group, using some resources we have in the block center.
Lucas and Ethan set to work making triangles right away.
Naisha and Brayden showed their group what they learned on Thursday.
Emilia and Will volunteered to make the supports for their bridge.
Adam and his group decided to work on separate parts of their bridge and then connect them at the end.

The kids used their knowledge gained from the day before in their designs. "We need to use so many triangles!" Molly told her group. "You have to make triangles like this. It's stronger," Aiden instructed his group.

After about thirty minutes, we stopped and took a tour of everyone's finished products. Everyone noticed that the bridges were bigger, stronger, and more intricate than our finished products from the day before.

We collected our work and displayed it in the hallway outside our classroom. "We are the experts now!" Adam beamed as he walked his bridge out to the shelf. Our friends are so proud of the hard work and persistence that this activity required. Come by Fannin Hall and check out our bridges when you have a chance!


We are so grateful to the Second Grade class and their teachers for taking time out of their busy day to collaborate with us and for being such kind, respectful leaders! They made this a successful and meaningful learning experience for our class. "Mrs. Bowling," Grace whispered in my ear, "when are we going to make them a Thank You card?"

Created By
Randilyn Bowling

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