The Gumdrop Bridge Challenge: applying lessons learned at Camp Galileo

One of the activities that 3Po and Jammy enjoyed most during their week at Camp Galileo was building a suspension bridge out of pipe cleaners, wood, cardboard and rocks.   It wasn't just a beautiful art project: the bridge actually had to support the weight of 100 pennies!  It was exactly the kind of challenge they relish.  Even more important, they applied and learned some important engineering principles:  forces, weight distribution, counterbalancing, etc.  Now they know the difference between a cantilever and a suspension bridge, and every time we cross the Bay Bridge or the Golden Gate Bridge, they can look at the structure and understand what the trusses and cables are for.

Those lessons have definitely stuck with them: one afternoon a couple of months ago I found myself browsing through the Galileo Learning blog and came across a post describing a Gumdrop Bridge Challenge.  It was a slow afternoon, and I already had toothpicks and mini marshmallows in the cupboard, so I challenged the boys to build a 10-inch bridge with just 40 toothpicks and 20 gumdrops.

It took them an embarrassingly short period of time to come up with a winning design.  Everything they had learned at Camp Galileo, 9 months after, was still in their brains!  They made the span as light as possible, made the bridge supports as heavy as they could, and built their supports using triangular trusses.

I figured the mini marshmallows were too light to be a challenge, so I went out and bought a bag of gumdrops and gave them the Advanced Version of the Gumdrop Bridge Challenge.  This time it was a bit more difficult, but they modified the shape of the bridge supports and got their structure to hold.  What a fun activity!

This year the boys will be building compressed air rockets out of goodness-knows-what during their Space Odyssey-themed session at Camp Galileo.  The challenge may be different but the underlying process will remain the same. They'll be applying the principles of physics, mechanics and materials science to solve a fun challenge, and they'll do it using Galileo's problem-solving approach: identifying problems, brainstorming solutions, testing, retesting, and adjusting based on experimental results.  I love that they're learning it early on in life (even if they don't realize they're learning) because they'll be using this kind of innovative thinking to tackle pretty much every challenge they encounter later in life.

Disclosure:This is the second in a series of posts about Camp Galileo and Galileo Summer Quest, for which I am receiving a free week of camp for each of my children. The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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