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K-8 School Bridge Project

Presented at the

Teaching the Hudson Valley Summer Institute 2016

Kathryn Burke, director of Historic Bridges of the Hudson Valley (HBHV), educator and author of Images of America; Hudson River Bridges, presented ways educators in all content areas can utilize our bridges, the HBHV website, and a special teacher share for curriculum materials to be used along with the HBHV traveling museum pictured here.

Joining Kathryn in the HBHV workshop was experienced classroom teacher, Diana Spera, a middle school Science teacher at St. Denis-St. Columba School in Hopewell Junction, who created a Project Based Learning (PBL) program to teach her 8th grade students about bridge engineering.  The program included bridge research, a web quest, a visit to the Bear Mountain Bridge, and small group construction of a popsicle stick truss bridge.  The program culminated in a Bridge Night where each group's bridge was tested for strength, and a winning group was determined.  The winning popsicle stick bridge actually held 107 lbs. of sand!

Each group gave a presentation explaining the design of their bridge.

Each bridge was tested for strenghth using sand as weight.

Above is the winning bridge group. On the right is NYSBA Executive Director, Joseph Ruggiero. On the left is engineer Dan Connolly, of Connolly Engineering, PLLC, an SD-SC parent who provided real life engineering experience.


Eighth graders researched bridge engineering and created bridges for the contest, but the whole school participated in bridge projects during Bridge Week.


  • Kindergarteners read The Three Billy Goats Gruff and designed bridges to travel over the stream that would protect them from the troll.

  • First graders built popsicle stick bridges of their own original design.

  • Second graders connected their study of the water cycle to the Hudson River running under the bridges and created terrarium ecosystems.

  • Third graders participated in bridge week with a literacy activity.  They created acrostic writing of bridges following a bridge study.

  • Fourth graders through sixth grade were more heavily involved in researching the bridges.

    • In Science class, students created bridges from drinking straws and masking tape, testing their design shapes to determine the strongest.  They also created posters to teach younger students about the history and design of the Hudson River bridges.

  • In Social Studies class, where they study Ancient Civilizations, the sixth graders studied ancient bridges, many of which are still standing. 

  • In Math class, the sixth graders built arch bridges out of pennies and other materials.  They logged statistics of width of arch and number of pennies used for each width.  They then tested the strength of their arch by using a pile of pennies on top of each arch.

  • Seventh graders worked in groups to research one of the Hudson River bridges.  Their research included the history, type of design, and interesting facts about their bridge.  Each group built a model of their bridge using available, everyday materials.  They created presentations on Google tablets then presented what they had learned at a Bridge Fest for fourth through sixth grade students.  The younger students asked questions and took notes on the bridges to share through discussions with their classmates when they returned to their classrooms.  The younger students then wrote about what they had learned about the bridges.

  • In Art class, fourth graders created line drawings of the Mid-Hudson Bridge then used a color wash to create beautiful and individual depictions of the Hudson Valley landmark.

Two amazing field trips, the eighth grade trip to Bear Mountain Bridge and a seventh grade trip to Walkway on the Hudson to study the bridges were funded by a grant from Teaching the Hudson Valley (THV).

Historic Bridges of the Hudson Valley website, HBHV Traveling Museum with artifacts and iPads, and the New York State Bridge Authority (NYSBA) website were used as main sources of information for students' research.


All above plans are being made available, or are in the process of being input into the new teacher share on the HBHV website.  Educators are welcome to use the plans, edit or adapt for his/her own use, then share the adapted plans for other educators to use.


While the above Bridge Week at St. Denis-St. Columba School was primarily STEAM activities, plans are being created to use HBHV materials in History and Social Studies.  Additionally, whenever students perform research or practice scientific experimentation literacy skills and the corresponding learning standards are necessary integrations.  Plans for literacy skills will be available on the teacher share as well.


Historic Bridges of the Hudson Valley was initiated by NYSBA Executive Director, Joseph Ruggiero who has great pride and fascination for the Hudson River bridges owned and expertly operated and maintained by the people of the New York State Bridge Authority.  For the last two years, HBHV has traveled to schools and libraries in the Hudson Valley.  Under the direction of Kathryn Burke, we look forward to helping educators create project based learning, while increasing their students' interest in STEAM, history, research, and literacy.  We invite all educators to use our HBHV website, traveling museum, and most importantly our bridges to provide unique, beneficial, and exciting educational opportunities for their students.



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