About the Disciplinary Knowledge Meets Real World Messiness category

As you play through the game Bridge-Builder, think about the following questions:

  • What are you learning about bridge building in this process?

  • What physics concepts do you see being embedded in these design challenges?

  • In describing these concepts, do you see yourself using “academic language” or are you developing new ways to talk about this learning?

  • How does this feel similar or different to the ways you either learned or taught these concepts?

  • How might you frame an activity like this in your classroom to help students connect to their learning more deeply? (In other words, what do you want your next step as a learner to be?)

When you have finished, create a new topic in this Discourse category, post your response to these questions and respond to your colleagues responses.

Playing bridge builder engaged me in thinking about shapes, weight, gravity, force, and torque. I drew on inquiry methods like trial and error, analysis, and generalizing. My activity was self-directed. Rather than being told what to do and how to do it, I was creating my own strategies, trying them out, evaluating them, and refining them in an iterative process.
In terms of next steps, I would like to list out the various “rules” I found or strategies I employed - for example, triangles are the most stable shape; and the longer the distance across, the more support is needed. I would like to compile these rules with those of my classmates and refine them to be more precise, accurate, and concise. Ultimately, this would lead to our naturally drawing on some physics concepts to help us describe our insights accurately.

Although I hesitate to call the laws governing a successful bridge physics, there are some hidden rules to be uncovered about the games; for example, the car prefers to stay leveled, the weight of the wood itself doesn’t seem to factor into total weight calculation, and the connection of two pieces of horizontal/vertical wood need to be recursively supported by another piece of wood, and that no four nodes should make a quadrilateral (should all be triangles instead)

This activity captures key elements of design thinking process, which makes activity particularly engaging. The rules are not given but they are discovered. There are multiple possible solutions, and the way to test the rules are through success/failure of the bridge, instead being graded on only one possible correct solution.

Let me begin by saying that physics was the science I struggled with the most. I did not look forward to this task. However, I learned that I needed to really think about when I built certain parts of the bridge and what they did. I had to consider each line before I drew it and think about what shapes I needed to make for the most success. I saw the use of shapes being incorporated as well as gravity concepts and force and torque. I had to determine what parts where the most stable and the least likely to give in to gravity.
I used some academic language, but I do like I made some of my own ways especially since physics is not a strong suite of mine. I do wonder if I would have understand some of the theories of physics had I been able to play a game or to see it in action in some form. I think that I appreciate terminologies most of the time, but some things are just better if they are shared through trying. In my own classroom, I think I could try this to teach more complicated vocabulary or passages like Shakespeare or poetry. It would help students see these ideas in a new light. I don’t think there is a game online for it, but to have them pick apart a poem line by line and see if how they would piece it together versus the author and make comparisons to it and justifications might help them see something from a different angle.Then they could compare what they developed with others. From there, they can find connections and develop more questions.

I like that you expanded the student thinking deeper with this. It is a great way to take it to the next level.

I do like the fact that there is not simply one answer - like in life. And you can fail here and it does not impact beyond the game. Giving students those chances to fail is the best we can do for them.

I am absolutely an ELA teacher. I did not have any prior knowledge about how to build these bridges except having seen what bridges look like in real life. I think that is interesting because depending on the age group you use this game with, they probably would come into this with a similar knowledge base.
I think this could be an excellent launch activity for some cool math/science concepts and honestly its a great SEL lesson as well. It teaches students to be okay with failure! There are no directions, you just have to keep trying in order to succeed. Thats such an important skill for people to develop.

As another ELA teacher, I really related to your experience with this task!
I also love the idea of gamifying poetry reading. Reading poetry can be tough for middle schoolers and I think this would be a great idea for my students to get them engaged.

Without having the exact language to discuss bridge construction, I feel that I learned the risks and benefits associated with specific forms and their associated level of stability. It was most certainly an iterative process as the very short tutorial did not outline some of the key features of the software (such as the ability to stop and reset when things went wrong rather than starting from scratch). I will be honest that I spent far more time being absolutely frustrated on level two than I should have. If I had stopped and considered the tools available to me, I likely could have progressed much quicker. Instead I got in a loop of attempt-fail-frustration; I even reached out for a few bridge diagrams to see if I was way off on my support structures.

I do think activities such as this add an element of “play” back into learning challenging concepts. While subbing, I have seen similar gamified simulations for electrical current, the parts of a wave, and similar ideas. I do struggle a bit in finding immediate application to my classroom work. Much of the “educational software” for ELA focuses either on something like phonics (and usually aimed at a younger audience) or specific mechanics practice. Crystal suggested an interesting idea above in relation to poetry, but I do think that readymade tools are a bit harder to come by for language arts.