Here is a fun and easy STEM project that is perfect for October or any fall day: the Pumpkin Bridge! This project is great because you can use absolutely ANYTHING you have in your classroom for building materials! The challenge is that the children must build a bridge with the classroom materials of their choice. The requirement is that the bridge must support a mini pumpkin. I did not require that the bridge be a certain length, but if I did it again, I would have passed out rulers and asked them to make sure that their bridges were at least six inches long, for example.
I actually had my second graders last year make this pumpkin bridge, but I didn’t have a chance to do a blog post at that point until fall was nearly over, so I decided to wait to write about it until a time when it would be more timely! Of course, the great news is that since these are now my former students, I am now able to share pictures of their pretty faces with you!
Purchase those mini pumpkins EARLY! I waited until it was ALMOST HALLOWEEN and then had to drive all over town to find them. You’ll need one mini pumpkin for every team. I had two kids per team, and that worked out just fine.
First, make SURE your kids understand what a bridge is! I discovered the hard way that some of my students thought that a tower and a bridge were the same thing. A few of them were building towers to support a pumpkin rather than a bridge, presumably because we had done the Apple Jenga STEM project earlier in the year. If we had stopped to simply read a book about bridges or just look at some bridges online first, I’m sure that would have cleared up the confusion. However, the children that got confused were upset when they had to take down their towers and start over to make a bridge.
One nice story about a bridge is Twenty-One Elephants by Phil Bildner, and a good informational book is called Bridges: Amazing Structures to Design, Build, and Test. They are both probably over the heads of the average early Kindergartner, but if you paraphrase them, it should be fine!
Second, find a fair or random way to let the children choose their building supplies. I used their Class Dojo points to choose who could choose first. The child with the most points got to choose a partner to work with and together they chose a set of manipulatives or toys to build with. Then I told them to grab a mini pumpkin, choose a spot in the classroom where there would be a little room to themselves, and start building!
Third, allow plenty of time to play and to clean up. My kids needed/wanted AT LEAST 25 minutes to play, and another five minutes to clean up. After that, it took us a few minutes to settle back down, truth be told!
Fourth, Discuss! Consider taking pictures of the bridges before they fall, and run a slideshow for the children to watch later! Discuss why one bridge may have better supported a pumpkin and another did not. The discussion is easiest with the photos, of course.
Here are the different materials we used to make our bridges. These are just the random things I had in my classroom. You will probably have other things that will also work just fine!
– Base ten blocks
– Multilink Cubes
– Wooden one inch cubes and Keva planks
– Unifix Cubes
– Pattern Blocks
Other ideas for building materials that you may have on hand are: Duplo or Lego blocks, Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, Mega Blox, etc. If you wind up doing this project with your kids, please take some pictures and post them for me, okay?
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