K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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a foggy bridge


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Learning outcomes

Goal: The student is to build the longest non-supported single span bridge possible using one sheet of 8.5 × 11 paper.


  1. To explore a variety of ideas to solve a simple problem
  2. To creatively find means of measuring materials to construct a paper bridge

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

45 Minutes


Each student group will need the following:

  • 1 sheet of paper, 8.5 × 11 (although any size will work)
  • 12 inches of masking tape
  • 1 pair of scissors
  • a pencil


Discuss problem solving strategies and the Ideal problem solving system.


  1. Pass out the handout titled Problem Solving Activity: To Build A Bridge.
  2. Go over the activity with the students.
  3. Group students into pairs.
  4. Students should begin sketching ideas on the bottom of the Problem Solving Activity page.
  5. Pass out to each group the following materials: 1 pair of scissors, 1 sheet of paper, 8.5 × 11, 12 inches of masking tape. Students should have their own pencil.
  6. As soon as students receive their materials they can begin construction of their bridge.


  1. Review the problem statement. Ask students for the definition of key words such as span.
  2. Ask for students to display their bridge and show the span of their bridge. This is a good place to discuss the meaning of “longest non-supported single span”.
  3. Determine which group built the longest single span bridge.

Supplemental information

Teacher background knowledge of structural stress, tension, and compression would be helpful.


This activity came from a winter technology education workshop several years ago. I first tried this activity on a snow make up day several years ago. Students had lot of fun with the activity and learned about comparing the meaning of words to find a solution. The activity fit well into lessons introducing problem solving because it could be done quickly and students enjoyed it.

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Mathematics (2004)

Grade 8

  • Goal 2: Measurement - The learner will understand and use measurement concepts.
    • Objective 2.02: Apply and use concepts of indirect measurement.