Engineering Design Unit – Building Bridges


The topic for this engineering design unit is applied forces by building bridges.  This unit will have students utilize the engineering design process in order to design and build bridges while developing their body of knowledge related to forces.  This lesson covers the following standards.

Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs):

PH.3 The student will investigate and demonstrate an understanding of the nature of science, scientific reasoning, and logic. Key concepts include

  1. analysis of scientific sources to develop and refine research hypotheses;

PH.4 The student will investigate and understand how applications of physics affect the world. Key concepts include a) examples from the real world; and

  1. exploration of the roles and contributions of science and technology.

PH.5 The student will investigate and understand the interrelationships among mass, distance, force, and time through mathematical and experimental processes. Key concepts include

  1. Newton’s laws of motion;
  2. gravitation;
  3. work, power, and energy.

Next Generation Science Standards:

ETS1.B: Developing Possible Solutions

  • A solution needs to be tested, and then modified on the basis of the test results, in order to improve it. (secondary to MS-PS1-6)

ETS1.C: Optimizing the Design Solution

  • Although one design may not perform the best across all tests, identifying the characteristics of the design that performed the best in each test can provide useful information for the redesign process—that is, some of the characteristics may be incorporated into the new design. (secondary to MS-PS1-6)

The iterative process of testing the most promising solutions and modifying what is proposed on the basis of the test results leads to greater refinement and ultimately to an optimal solution. (secondary to MS-PS1-6)

This lesson does an excellent job working with both the SOL and NGSS.  The engineering design process focuses on the next generation standards of developing possible solutions and optimizing solutions and allows the students to fulfill these requirements within the engineering process.  Additionally, the real world design challenge and general scientific processes skills address SOLs PH.3 and PH.4.  Finally, the content of the unit does an excellent job addressing the forces concepts stated in PH.5 as students will actively utilize and develop this content knowledge in order to successfully develop their designs.

Unit Resources

EDIS Unit Plan – Building Bridges – This unit plan details an applied forces unit that involves students being presented with a design challenge and tasked with developing a solution for it.  This unit contains a pacing guide, standards, learning objectives, resources, and rubrics for individual and group assessment.


Engineering Design is a fantastic method for developing collaborative, analytical, and critical thinking skills in students.  It allows students to apply their skills in a hands on and realistic way compared to the more traditional manners of solving word problems and calculating values.  Engineering design provides students with a method for tackling a variety of problems in a consistent and thorough manner.  Building bridges is an excellent topic for engineering design as they can be made cheaply, are very familiar to students, and can be tested easily to allow for several iterations of the design process to occur.  Two issues that can arise in engineering design is ensuring students engage in enough iterations and that students understand what is expected of them.  I will address this by including iteration requirements to ensure that groups do not simply stop after one cycle.  Additionally, I will have them create a teacher guide similar to the one that can be seen on this website in order to help them learn what is expected for each step.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s