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Buildable Bridge Models. Learning Engineering through Block Play and Model Construction. Brian Brenner Julia Carroll Brian Gravel.

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buildable bridge models

Buildable Bridge Models

Learning Engineering through Block Play and Model Construction

Brian Brenner

Julia Carroll

Brian Gravel

“Young children are inherently active with strong impulses to investigate, to share with others what they have found out, to construct things, and to create. In other words, a child is a natural engineer.”

-Genalo et al. (2000)

  • Block play or “hands on” learning
  • Engineering and blocks
  • Bridge models
    • Zakim bridge
    • Suspension bridge
    • Tacoma Narrows bridge
science through block play
Science through Block Play
  • Scientific method
  • Systems and systematic thought
    • Iteration, patterns
    • Reversibility
  • Interactions
    • Whole-part relationships
mathematics through block play













Mathematics through Block Play
engineering and blocks
Engineering and Blocks
  • Basic Structures
    • Post and lintel
    • Arches
    • Cantilever
  • Advanced structures
    • Tunnels
    • Bridges
    • Ramps
    • Towers
engineering and blocks7
Engineering and Blocks
  • Construction/Design Principles
    • Design Constraints
    • Construction staging
older students and blocks
Older Students and Blocks
  • Models
    • Physical resemblance
    • Functionality
    • Tools of theory
  • Complex systems
    • Uses of different materials
    • Terminology
bridge models
Bridge Models
  • Simplified examples of large structures
  • Simulate construction staging
  • Encourages thinking about engineering design and practice
zakim bridge discussion
Zakim Bridge Discussion
  • Forces in cables, piers, decking
  • Stiffness of the deck
  • Location/style of cables
  • Advantages/disadvantages
suspension bridge discussion
Suspension Bridge Discussion
  • Forces in the cables, piers, and abutments
  • Compare to cable-stayed
  • Span length
  • Cable calculations
  • Failures
tacoma narrows discussion
Simulates collapse and redesign of Tacoma Narrows bridge

Unstiffened deck comes off with a modest wind

Stiffened deck remains intact

Tacoma Narrows Discussion
student guides
Student Guides



more hands on learning
More Hands-on Learning
  • Use their bodies to show engineering principles
  • Create “human models” of structures
  • Popsicle stick/toothpick structures
  • Bridge library website
  • Blocks encourage science and math development
  • Block play is usually a child’s first experience with engineering
  • Block models and hands-on activities provide a tangible way for students to learn about their surroundings
  • Block models inspire scientific and engineering thought
  • Genalo, L.J., Bruning, M.,and Adams, B. (2000). “Creating a K-12 engineering educational outreach center.” Proc., 2000 ASEE Annual Conf., American Society for Engineering Education, Washington, D.C.
  • Kids/Blocks/Learning. Ansel, Patricia G. 2005. Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. July 6, 2005.
  • Leeb-Lundberg, K. (1984). “The Block Builder Mathematician.” The Block Book, ed. 3., National Association for the Education of Young Children, Washington, D.C.
  • Moffit, M.W. (1984). “Children Learn about Science through Block Building.” The Block Book, ed. 3., National Association for the Education of Young Children, Washington, D.C.
  • Penner, D.E., Giles, N.D., Lehrer, R., Schauble, L. “Building Functional Models: Designing an Elbow.” Journal of Research in Science Teaching., v.34 n.2, pp.125-143