Students at St. Sylvester in Brentwood building bridges

| Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 9:02 p.m.

The silence in St. Sylvester School's gymnasium broke with the crumbling of a bridge.

Seconds later, students screamed and cheered, giving their peers, in some cases, a standing ovation.

“You want to be quiet so you can hear that first crack,” said Sue Clancy, eighth-grade teacher at St. Sylvester, in Brentwood.

Seventh- and eighth-grade students competed on Friday to see who could build the most efficient 18-inch model of a bridge by using only uncooked pasta noodles and glue.

The students were challenged to create the lightest bridge that holds the most weight or has the best efficiency ratio.

“Some of the bridges go real fast. Others take their time,” said Kevin Clancy, Sue's husband, who helps the students with the project. “We had a bridge that held 200 pounds. It's all about the weight.”

The Clancys began working with students for the bridge research projects about 10 years ago, Kevin said.

“I have kids who are always breaking my stuff, so now I get to break their stuff,” he said. “We test them to destruction ... I will break your bridge if I have to drive over it with my truck.”

The students receive a lesson on bridge construction and design, then split into teams of four to create their own models. Constructing the 10 bridges took three to four days.

“It forces them to compromise, to work together,” Kevin said.

Each bridge balances between two desks, with a bucket attached to it in the center to test how much weight the structure can withstand. Students then scoop cups of sand into the hanging bucket until the bridge breaks.

The bridges are weighed before the test begins, and the buckets of sand weighed afterward. Erika Artman, seventh-grade teacher at St. Sylvester, crunched the numbers to determine each bridge's efficiency rate.

Team members Emily Gasiorowski, Zadrain Trumbull, Sarah Ossman and Bronc Jackson, eighth-graders, constructed the Raven, which weighed 0.9 pounds and held 51 pounds, yielding the best results and an efficiency ratio of 56.7 percent.

The team's strategy was for each member to design his or her own bridge and then as a team they took the best elements from each to create the Raven, Jackson said.

Alex Jozefowicz, Jackson Kaip, Sarah Cornell and Jody Lopata, the seventh-grade team members for the Hot Metal model bridge, observed the actual South Side bridge of the same name as inspiration for their design, Kaip said.

The strategy paid off because the bridge, with a weight of 1.3 pounds, held 43.3 pounds and had an efficiency ratio of 33.5 percent.

The team came in first of the seventh-grade teams. Still, members said they hoped it would have had better results.

“I wish I could have filled the entire (container),” Kaip said.

Students in grades four to six also voted on which bridges were the most aesthetically pleasing. The seventh-grade winning team was Pasta Perfection and eighth-grade winners, The Trophy Case.

“Some of them are real ornate,” Kevin Clancy said.

Laura Van Wert is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5814 or at

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.


Show commenting policy