Donna Hunt's students show off
their prized toothpick bridge.
By Donna Hunt, Teacher
STEM Academy at Texas Middle School; Texarkana, Texas
Editor’s Note: Seventh-grade science teacher
Donna Hunt of Texarkana, Texas, won a Balsa
Wood MegaPack valued at $60 for her photo
submission of her students and their toothpick
bridge creations to the Pitsco Facebook page.
Similar challenges and contests will be coming
soon at www.facebook.com/pitscoeducation.
I have been teaching for 29 years, and
I’ve come to believe that the real-world
problems for which students construct
a solution, create an environment where
learning content is relevant, and authentic
learning takes place.
To quote one of my students, “This
project made engineering for earthquakes and
disasters so in-your-face for real, Mrs. Hunt, I
loved it!” I use the toothpick bridge engineering
project as part of the catastrophic events unit.
Some of the questions that guide the unit are:
- Are building codes for architects the
same in Texas as California?
- Why are building codes even necessary?
- Is giving a company with the lowest bid
on a job always the right thing to do?
The students form a company, sign
contracts, and are challenged to build a bridge
within the budget. It must be at least a 14-inch
span, completed within six class periods, and
capable of supporting three full soda cans. I
take six different grades on this project, and
the students vote on several categories for
winners. Anytime students can ask their own
form their own
test their own
I as a teacher
am trying to teach, connect with their world,
and retention actually happens.
Our seventh-grade STEM program has
an engineering component each six weeks,
and the students really enjoy participating –
sometimes competing for prizes with their