They stood in the back of the classroom Wednesday morning nervously awaiting test results even though their last days as eighth-grade students ended years ago.
The parquet floor squeaked underfoot. The smell of sawdust hung lightly in the air. Students sat silently. The eighth-grade classroom at Franklin Junior High was tense with anticipation.
Lee Wangstad, Kuepers Construction project development manager, and Colleen Faacks, Mid-Minnesota Builders Association director, stood with their homework projects nestled in plastic bags. They had visited the Franklin Junior High tech education class earlier this month on a field trip of their own.
The end result built bridges -- literally.
Colleen Faacks (left) grimaced and students gasped as the model bridge she built collapsed Wednesday at Franklin Junior High School in Brainerd. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist
Wangstad and Faacks, participants in the Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce's leadership program, visited Joe Pohlkamp's classroom for the program's education day. The teenage students were testing 16-inch long bridges they constructed from wood sticks, sheet paper and carpenter's glue. Acting as civil engineers, the student project was to design a bridge to span a 140-foot wide canyon. Weights were used to test bridge strength. The strongest bridge ever constructed in the classroom survived a record 119 pounds. Bridges had to withstand weights of 39.6 pounds to receive an A grade. The strongest student bridge withstood 68.2 pounds.
Students challenged the adults to build their own bridges and test them. Wangstad and Faacks accepted. Wednesday they were feeling the pressure. The project took over Faack's kitchen table, displacing the family diners since Sunday.
"My family is all on pins and needles to see how the project went," Faacks said. "I wish I would have paid more attention the first day I was here. My first-grader said 'make sure you put it in two bags so you don't fall.'"
Faacks turned to Wangstad. "How many times did you read the directions?"
"I'm still reading them now," he said.
Students impressed with Wangstad's design asked how much time he spent on the project.
"Twenty-five to 30 minutes," he said solemnly and received shocked sounds from the classroom. The actual time was closer to nine hours he admitted. Faacks said not all the 12 hours into her project were peaceful ones at her house, including the time a 2-year-old was intent on stealing the sticks. Pohlkamp's students worked on their projects about 50 minutes a day for eight school days.
Lee Wangstad from Kuepers Construction showed his model bridge to students in Joe Pohlkamp's tech education class Wednesday at Franklin Junior High. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist
As Faacks put on safety glasses and bent to put the weights in to test her bridge, she wiped her palms.
"Were you guys nervous when you got yours weighed?" she said. "Oh man, my hands."
Students applauded the effort then the room fell silent as each weight was added to a bucket suspended below. Additional 5-pound cakes were sought as the bridge continued to survive.
"Holy monkey," a student said. Students urged Faacks to go for the classroom record.
As the weights shifted in the bucket, the strong little bridge with tiny flags attached to its trusses finally snapped. Faacks told the students it was OK as she couldn't handle the stress of adding more weight to the bucket.
"You guys will know that when you get older," she said.
Wangstad took his turn loading weights to stress his own bridge.
"I'm a little nervous here," he said. The bridge began to creak and then snapped at 61.6 pounds. "A couple of our architects think they are pretty good. I'll have them come in to test. Maybe we can start something around town -- the bridge challenge."
Thirteen-year-olds Mary Johnson, Erin LePage, Janessa DeRosier and Sara Wentworth enjoyed the adult participation. They said they learned the prettiest bridge may not be the strongest, not to put a graded classroom project on a moving surface and the advantages of working with a partner.
"It shows kids can beat older people if they really try," Janessa said.
For a teacher with enthusiasm for learning readily apparent, the lessons have implications far beyond the classroom. Pohlkamp said students learned about angles and math, about the inherent strength in triangles and what a civil engineer does for a living.
"Kids come into my class and they say, 'Can we get started?'" Pohlkamp said. "Not too often do you hear that in a math class."
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.
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