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Exploring Structures: Paper Bridges

This great, open ended activity works across a lot of ages and only requires some A4 paper, scissors, glue sticks and rulers. Older children can carry out scientific tests to find the very strongest designs.

The video (2:26 min) can be used to explain the challenge to the children. It can work as a stand alone fun activity or as part of a bigger topic…. the Greeks used lots of beams and columns in their architecture!

Working alone or in pairs or small teams, the children cut and fold a single sheet of A4 to construct a beam bridge. A beam bridge comprises of a strong beam held in the air with vertical supports called piers. They must make a bridge that spans 20cm between the piers. They then test their design using toy cars or classroom weights. Older children could devise a fair test and keep records for each design as they refine them.

A drawing on a beam bridge

Children should be encouraged to investigate folding the paper into 3D shapes called sections or channels. If you have seen the metal beams used to construct a new building you may have seen their cross sectional shapes. Is is these shapes that help give the beams strength. V, U, W and box and circular shaped sections can all be experimented with.

Various examples of beam sections

They should consider the shapes they use for the piers as well as the beam, as the piers need to support the weight of everything.

A child's bridge made using a U shaped section or channel.

Combining sections with layers can create a very strong structure called a laminate. Plywood is an example of a strong laminate. Several ideas are combined in this bridge design.

Failure is half the fun!

Children should be encouraged to test their bridges to destruction to understand the causes of failure!

Parts of the bridge can be held together by creating slots or tabs which provides plenty of extension for older and more able students.

Do let us know here at Teachers’ Corner how you get on. You can use the comments below or email us at teacherscorner@folens.ie with pictures!

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At Folens, we believe that educators sharing insights and experiences with each other is crucial to improving education for all. Teachers’ Corner is edited by teachers, with teachers and for teachers.

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