Blogger Amy Koester

Bridge Science: or, Engineering in the Library

Photo by Amy Koester.

Do you offer opportunities for children to build and engineer things in your library? More and more libraries are offering LEGO Clubs and LEGO-themed events; what about one-off STEM programs that help build those visual thinking and problem solving skills in new ways? If that idea inspires you to add an engineering program to your program line-up, allow me to suggest you consider building some bridges. My library’s recent Bridge Science program was a fun, simple, sneakily-educational hit.

First, we talked about the science. I wanted the children at the program to have a foundation for thinking about bridges before they got to building and testing their own. After gathering information from How Stuff Works and Wonderopolis, I created a Prezi with some basic bridge facts, like the forces acting on a bridge and different bridge-building structures. Also, I know my audience; I knew a great way to emphasize the strength (or lack thereof) of bridges was to show one collapsing. My kids were equally shocked and awed by the video of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse.

Photo by Amy Koester.

Next came the hands-on STEM work. The Prezi ended with a challenge: use simple materials to build the strongest bridge possible–one that would be tested under the weight of books. The bridge needed to span a 16-inch clear plastic container, and the available materials were limited to newspaper, yarn, and pipe cleaners. Engineers, who worked individually and in groups, could use scissors and yardsticks to aid construction. I also encouraged them to test their bridges as they worked in order to make modifications before the final strength test. I had several great conversations during this work time on topics of bridge stressors, building, and problem solving.

Photo by Amy Koester.

We ended by testing the structures. One by one, builders brought their bridges to be tested over our plastic container precipice. I stacked the books one at a time, starting with smaller BOB books, increasing to larger books from the Series of Unfortunate Events, and growing to old hardback copies of The Boxcar Children. Some of the bridges buckled and fell after 5-10 books were stacked on them, but others fared really well. At the end of the program, I had to go grab our dictionary from the dictionary stand–one group made a bridge that supported even that added weight! The kids were excited to see how their own bridges fared, and I heard several say they would try to improve their structures further at home.

Kids checked out books on bridges and building after the program. I like to give program participants the option to continue their STEM adventures at home, and I try to make available as many related resources as possible. I also shared info about our monthly LEGO Club, which offers additional building opportunities to kids at our library. I ended the program, at the kids’ request, by testing the strength of the sample bridge I had made. My bridge quickly collapsed, and not for my lack of trying to build a sound bridge; the children far outdid me. Good thing I’m a librarian and not an engineer.

What sort of engineering activities do you offer at your library? Sound off in the comments!


  1. Sharon McClintock

    Amy, this is so great! Thanks for sharing your program — and I love your Prezi!

  2. Allison McLean

    Recently I had a similar program for teens. We made a Rube Goldberg Machine. The kids got so into building it and I was amazed at all their creative ideas. The best part was that I felt like I was learning a lot too!

  3. Natalie

    Fabulous! What ages did you allow to come?

    1. Amy

      I opened the program for school-age kids, kindergarten through 5th grade. Most of our attendees were in the 2nd-4th grade range.

  4. Jill

    Thanks for the great program! I can’t wait to try it next month. Do you mind if I use your photograph of the books stacked on the bridge for my flyer? I will just be distributing it within my one library branch. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.