Loveland, Colorado … Fifth and sixth graders at HMS Richards Elementary School have been diligently working on a bridge-building project that teacher Paul Bragaw has his class do every other year. The class is divided into groups which they refer to as “companies”. The overall goal of the project is to build a successful bridge out of toothpicks that is the correct dimensions of the land provided and is able to bear weight.

To begin with, the companies must come up with a name and assign each person a job. The names that the companies decided on this year include Purified Builders, ABC (American Bridge Building Company), WASBE (First letter of the names of each member of the group), and NBBA (National Bridge Building Company).

The jobs assigned include project director, architect, accountant, carpenter, and transportation chief. Bragaw is in charge overall and owns the warehouse which provides the material needed for each bridge. Each job is equally important and can only be done by the person to whom it is assigned. This challenges the teams to use teamwork. Some groups thought working with groups was easier than others. The accountant is in charge of the imaginary $1,550,000.00 budget and must make sure to maintain the balance. The teams may also be fined for talking to other companies, distracting the companies, and having messy and dangerous building conditions.

The first step in the bridge-building process is drawing up the plans. The plans must be approved by Bragaw. The next step is buying the correct amount of supplies, which include toothpicks and glue, and making sure there is enough money in the budget. Then, the building process begins. This part includes a lot of trial and error, and some groups may find that they need to revise their plans. After the bridge is standing, there is a test to see how much weight the bridge can bear. The company whose bridge can hold the most weight wins.

One of the participating students, Evie Lange, remarked, “It has been fun, but it’s also frustrating and stressful. We didn’t have a lot of money left, and sometimes we would fight. We may not win, but we’re still going to try our hardest.”

Megan Michalenko; photo by Jill Harlow