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5th Graders Build Bridges, Figuratively and Literally

5th Graders Build Bridges, Figuratively and Literally

This is not just a catchy title, although it does have a nice ring, but an important part of school for all students. Figurative bridges or social connections are essential human needs. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, love and belonging which include friendship, family, and a sense of connection are third after physiological (breathing, food, water, shelter, sleep) and safety (health and wellness, security of family, financial security) needs. 

In 5th grade advisory, students are encouraged to build figurative bridges through the connections that they make with their classmates and teachers. Since returning to school in the new year, we have been focusing on taking the perspectives of others and kindness. Using picture books, videos, and discussions, students have learned about how the same interactions can be perceived in very different ways. They have identified the different perspectives in hypothetical scenarios and discussed how to walk in someone else’s shoes. 

Students have also examined how their simple acts of kindness can affect others. By studying song lyrics, listening to picture books, and looking at their own interactions, they have examined the impact of their kind deeds. Additionally, to celebrate National Hot Chocolate Day and set goals for future acts of kindness, all 5th graders made Kindness Mugs which currently decorate their lockers. 

5th graders share their Kindness Mugs before enjoying some hot chocolate

Literal bridges are engineering marvels. In science, students have been investigating different types of bridges through a variety of hands-on explorations, building challenges, and a trip to the National Building Museum. To start the unit, students were given the task to create a bridge out of two pieces of paper that could hold the most pennies. Since learning from our mistakes is an essential part of the engineering design process, after a group’s bridge collapsed, students were given an opportunity to assess and redesign the bridge. While everyone was ultimately successful, at least one bridge held weight equivalent to over 500 pennies!

5th grade engineers testing their paper bridges

Students have also been investigating what shapes are the strongest. Using plastic beams, nuts, and bolts, they have created triangles, squares, pentagons, and more. Each shape was tested for stability and strengthened by adding more beams. They further explored the strength of different shapes during a field trip to the National Building Museum.

Learning about compression in arches at the Building Museum and with our Lego bridges

In lab groups, the 5th graders then had to put out their new knowledge to the test in a distance challenge - building a Lego bridge that could span one meter and support its own weight with limited tension, compression, and deflection evident.

Successful bridges varied in design - some incorporated pillars and trusses

Group work like this supports both the figurative and literal bridge building we have been working on. According to Psychology Today, “Looking for ways to bring people together, and to show how people are connected doesn't just make the team's task ahead more fun or easier to bear. It can actually make them work harder and perform better.” I think the 5th graders would agree that they have been working hard and having fun with bridges!