Building a paper bridge: An introduction to problem solving
This activity allows the student to explore problem solving strategies while working with a partner. This activity (building a paper bridge), requires students to question word definition and the application of those definitions. Through problem solving strategies, students discover the need for applying math skills.
A lesson plan for grade 8 Mathematics
Goal: The student is to build the longest non-supported single span bridge possible using one sheet of 8.5 × 11 paper.
- To explore a variety of ideas to solve a simple problem
- To creatively find means of measuring materials to construct a paper bridge
Time required for lesson
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.
- Pass out the handout titled Problem Solving Activity: To Build A Bridge.
- Go over the activity with the students.
- Group students into pairs.
- Students should begin sketching ideas on the bottom of the Problem Solving Activity page.
- 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.
- As soon as students receive their materials they can begin construction of their bridge.
- Review the problem statement. Ask students for the definition of key words such as span.
- 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”.
- Determine which group built the longest single span bridge.
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
- Goal 2: Measurement - The learner will understand and use measurement concepts.
- Objective 2.02: Apply and use concepts of indirect measurement.