Building Bridges from Physics

Monday, 15. March 2021

Johannes is teaching physics to a group of eight students ranging in age from about 13 to 15 years old. But! With a twist!

Johannes’s class is looking at physics through the lens of bridges.

Each week, the students are presented with a task to complete. From there, the students follow the scientific process of making observations, asking a question, creating a hypothesis, testing their hypothesis, and then refining their understanding problem at hand.

In the first week of the class, for example, the students were given a stack of about 30 sheets of A4 paper, a meter of tape, and instructed to build a bridge that would span a meter’s gap and carry a Playmobil car across the chasm.

Through trial, and a few errors, the students were able to discover that triangles are more stable than rectangles. The students observed first-hand how rectangles could shift, changing the angles and weakening the structure of their bridges.

Building Stone Bridges

This week, Johannes’s physics class is learning about stone bridges. They’re spending the week in our ceramics studio, designing bridge forms, learning about arches, and the relationship between tensional forces and the degree of curvature in an arch.

Along the way, the students are recording their work on video. They are learning about the importance of documentation in the scientific process, while also discovering video editing, content creation, and communication skills

Learning How to Lean

Johannes’ philosophy is to teach concepts in physics, but more importantly, to teach students how to learn. In our modern, hyper-connected world, we have all of human knowledge literally in our pockets accessible through a touch screen. Students can look up principles, they can google equations. What they really benefit from is learning skills: creativity, problem solving, communication and organization and project management.

Further to this, Johannes believes firmly that students learn best when they experience themselves the principle in questions, and have some emotional involvement in the learning process. They must have some sort of emotional experience of the subject, a sense of curiosity, excitement, enjoyment, or even frustration. Emotion helps to modulate the attention and motivates behaviour.

Through the study of bridges, Johannes and his students are learning about physics, and also, building metaphorical bridges between concepts in physics and other interdisciplinary skills. Learning extends beyond the classroom equipping our students with skills they will carry with them for life!