Back in action: Engineering students conduct outdoor and indoor bridge labs


Ben Green / Office of Communications

Seniors Bayden Yazalina and Ryan Tobin work on building a stable plastic bridge as math teacher Anthony Silk gives feedback.

by Lucy Ge and Sara Yen

Masked and working in small groups, seven Introduction to Engineering students carefully connected K’NEX building pieces to form plastic bridges between tables outside of Nichols on Feb. 26. Nearly two weeks later, they returned into the Dobbins classrooms last Wednesday for a second bridge-building lab. 

Taught by upper school math teacher Anthony Silk, seven students out of a nine-person class opted to build plastic bridges in-person to supplement their learning on the bridges unit. For the first lab, they worked on three general challenges evaluating the bridge’s length and durability, and they expanded on their skills in the second lab by trying to build a sturdier plastic bridge.

Chloe Affaki (12) enjoyed being back in the classroom for the second lab, which was held indoors due to the rain. The second lab also asked students to take into account the hypothetical time and cost of construction of the bridge, which Chloe found interesting. 

“It was the full process of construction, not just the design, which is what we had done last time,” she said. “It was nice to finally be back at school and in a classroom, even though it wasn’t specifically for a full day of school.”

Students studied the technical aspects of bridge-building, such as stress and strain, before coming onto campus for the labs. They were also provided with materials during pick-up days to work on projects in their own time. 

Angela Cai (12) also enjoyed being on campus and participating in hands-on engineering activities. The class had previously used the app “Truss Me!” to design structures, and she preferred the in-person activity over the app. 

“The app doesn’t really do much, you can’t really shake it around and see if it moves. So being able to touch things in-person is more of a learning experience,” Angela said. “Because I’m more of a hands-on person, it works better.”

Silk also enjoyed seeing his Engineering class in-person for the first time in the semester.

“It was nice seeing the students in three dimensions,” he said. “It’s so strange when you’re all just little tiny squares. It was weird because, some students, I didn’t really recognize them in-person, and just getting a sense of them is very different.”

Silk plans to have another on-campus activity next month for an aviation lab, which will involve paper airplanes. 

“For regular day-to-day teaching, being online is just as effective,” Silk said. “The real problem is that labs are hard to do online, so whenever we can be there in-person to do a lab, that’s what we’re going to try and do.”