Interdisciplinary Cal Poly Team Builds Bridges with Elementary Students

Put three multiple subject student teacher candidates and several architectural engineering students together in the same room with some elementary students, and what do they do? Build bridges and sandcastles.

For the past two years, the School of Education Multiple Subject Program and the College of Architecture & Environmental Design (CAED) have brought a bridge design, engineering and construction project into five elementary classrooms in Lucia Mar and San Luis Coastal School districts. 

This hands-on project incorporates science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics into the classroom. It enhances problem-solving skills, reinforces teamwork and collaboration, and encourages students to think creatively about the built environment.

A key to the success of the program is its interdisciplinary nature. Teacher candidates and CAED students create lessons on bridge design and construction together with the support of faculty from both colleges.

They take these lessons to the elementary classroom where, after some basic instruction, the students have the opportunity to take on the roles of planner, architect, engineer and contractor in designing and building a scale model of a bridge. Working in small groups, students decide what kind of bridge to build, then pass those plans onto another group that will design the bridge. This process continues through the engineering and construction phases of the project.

Each group also designs a sand sculpture for the Sea Creature Sand Sculpture Contest in Pismo Beach. One design per class is chosen to be built at the contest.

One teacher candidate commented on how proud she felt when one of her students pointed to a bridge in the background of a picture the class was looking at and announced, “Look, Ms. K, a beam bridge!”

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School of Education
California Polytechnic State University
San Luis Obispo, CA 93407