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Oltman Middle School students get engineering lesson in bridge project

Hailey Morseth (left) and Kylie Booth work on a bridge in the theater at Oltman Middle School. The pair were among 90 eighth-grade students who built the structures as part of a lesson in applied mathematics for their geometry or algebra statistics classes. The bridges will undergo a weight test at Math & Science Night on March 20. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)

Tables at Oltman Middle School became miniature construction sites last week as eighth-grade students paired off to construct bridges from popsicle sticks and wood glue.

This was no arts and crafts class, however, but an exercise in designing a sound structure based on mathematical calculations. The students built their bridges in the school theater as an assignment for their geometry or algebra statistics class.

The workshop was supervised by Jeremy Allan, Corey Hymes and Aaron Horn, who are mechanical engineers for Northern Tier Energy.

Some students based their design on actual bridges in Hastings or Stillwater, math teacher Teresa Willkom said. Classes taught by math teachers Dan Murtha and Chris Peterson also participated.

Kylie Booth of Cottage Grove and Hailey Morseth of Newport, both 14, collaborated on a bridge that incorporated diagonal supports. Like their fellow students, they were limited to 100 popsicle sticks and one bottle of glue. The bridges had to be at least 20 inches in length.

The engineers conducted different tests with the kids that demonstrated bulking and tension on bridges.

“When we do have questions, we usually ask them because they’re the ones who have done things like that,” Kylie said.

Jake Downs partnered with Jaden Tufenk. Both are 13 and live in St. Paul Park.

“I thought it was very good because it taught you the mechanics of how it truly works and how it can collapse,” Downs said.

While building bridges would make for an interesting career, Downs said he wants to study to become a marine biologist.

The students will test their bridges at Math and Science Night on March 20 at Oltman. The engineers from Northern Tier will be on hand to test the weight-bearing capacity of each bridge by suspending weighted buckets from the struts.

Evidently it’s sound math, not glue, that holds these babies together. One year, a bridge designed by students held 166 pounds.

Math and Science Night is free and runs from 5-7 p.m. It will also feature the Park Robotics Team, a pinewood derby, rocket launching and a Fear Factor competition. It will also feature booths and games. This year’s event is titled “The Big Bang Theory” and is sponsored by Northern Tier Energy and Safeway Driving School.