This activity is a new addition to a classic one in schools across Alberta. The 3rd grade science curriculum calls for a comparison and demonstration of different materials and their strengths in comparison to one another.
I recall in great detail the fantastic bridge-building project that we got to do, but I also recall that we were limited to using popsicle sticks and glue to build our bridges. This is a prime example of where 3D printing can be built into the curriculum: where design and construction are already called for.
The full Word document with curriculum connections and activity design can be downloaded right here for you to access and modify as needed: Grade 3 Science: Bridge-Building
You can also find the activity and the models that I built here on Thingiverse.
Real-Life Connections: 3D printing has already been implemented in architecture and construction, even specifically for bridges.
Differentiation: I feel that it is important in this activity to allow students to explore their options and build with what they’d like to. Some students would enjoy 3D design and printing, while others may prefer a more hands-on approach by using the popsicle sticks. I would also personally have allow students to suggest their own means of building bridges, so long as it’s been approved by the teacher first. Teachers can use their discretion here at what is appropriate. Some examples of what I wouldn’t consider appropriate is welding, since I doubt that a grade 3 student would be doing that on their own, and if they were then I’d be concerned about their safety. Alternatively, wood and nails are fine, but realistically, a full-scale bridge wouldn’t be made of a few pieces of 2-by-4 nailed together.
Design Programs: I would recommend at this time that teachers have their students make use of the the apps from AutoCad’s 123D Design series to design parts of their bridges, particularly the 123D Design app on iPads.
Alternatively I would recommend having students use 3D Slash or when they become available, the SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids.
All of these apps or software are simple in design and relatively easy for young students to pick up and use.
Results: This is a very simple design that I came up with for a 3D printed bridge. There were 5 pieces total that I assembled with hot glue afterwards. I used 123D Design on the iPad to create these pieces. They are quite simple in design, but they are what I would consider to be an early elementary-level of design.
Assessment: Criteria for assessment are entirely up to you as the teacher. The way that I designed the activity in the document is that my students would have individual science journals where they would ask and answer questions and make the necessary comparisons. You might want to assign a mark or decide that my approach is too formal, but like I said, that’s up to how you run your classroom.