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Program bridges several disciplines for Kittanning students

| Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014, 12:21 a.m.
Noah Kunst, Kendra Hale, Natalie Foster and Ashley Worlds, and teacher Deborah Snyder, test the strength of a pillar in a model built by the students in a physics class at Kittanning High School..
Brad Pedersen
Noah Kunst, Kendra Hale, Natalie Foster and Ashley Worlds, and teacher Deborah Snyder, test the strength of a pillar in a model built by the students in a physics class at Kittanning High School..

A physics class changed the way Kittanning High School junior Natalie Foster looks at bridges.

“When I drove across a bridge before, there was never the question of if it will hold me and all the other cars,” Foster said. “But now, I'm always looking at them and doing calculations in my head to figure out how much they can hold.”

Foster and other students in teacher Deborah Snyder's physics class built model bridges using manila folders and glue and are running a series of experiments on them to test the strength and weaknesses of their work.

Their project uses software developed for a national competition called the West Point Bridge Project. While her students are not competing in the national contest, Snyder said she chose the project for its educational value, combining science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“Our goal is to use mathematics and science to ultimately show what it takes to create a safe bridge,” Snyder said. “We're starting from basic engineering and working to a finished product, so they understand every part of what goes into designing and building a bridge.”

The first part of the project required each student to build a model bridge, which took students nearly 12 hours of work. During the second part of the project, students tested parts of their bridges to see how much weight they could withstand, and documented their findings.

Each model bridge weighs about one-tenth of a pound and is expected to hold at least 11 pounds to be considered structurally sound, Snyder said.

The four students competed among themselves to see whose bridge could hold the most weight. While each bridge held at least 11 pounds, senior Noah Kunst claimed the strongest one — a miniature span that held roughly 16 pounds before it broke.

“It might have ended up breaking, but it held the most because nobody else even tried putting that much weight on theirs,” Kunst said. “Since I want to be an engineer, this has been a great learning experience for what I'm going to be learning in college.”

During their current phase of the project, students are calculating how much force their bridges could withstand based on the amount of weight they held, Snyder said.

The next phase, which Snyder plans to begin in the next couple of weeks, requires students to build a computerized bridge model based on their calculations. The final part allows students to design their own bridge on a computer.

“Project-based learning like this lets students learn through discovery and actually doing something,” Snyder said. “There's just so much involved here. It applies everything they've learned in class and makes it real.”

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1337, or bpedersen@tribweb.com.

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