In the weighty world of determining which of the 11 student-created bridges was strongest in Mooseheart's 27th annual Bridge-Breaking competition, the bridges that withstood the most weight before breaking, while certainly worthy constructions, weren't winners.
That title went to Nezra McCarty's creation, which held 8,900 grams before breaking in the Jan. 11 competition. Oumaru Abdulahi (9,200 grams) and Cody Henderson (9,000 grams) each had a bridge that supported more weight, but McCarty's construction was one-third the weight of those other two, and so he was deemed the victor by Mooseheart physics teacher Curt Schlinkmann.
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"I just put a lot of triangles into it," McCarty said. "That's what I heard works. I tried to make a good design."
A senior, McCarty came to Mooseheart as a seventh-grader in 2007 and has had the chance to see a few bridge-breaking competitions since. That experience factored into his design.
"I've seen people try to get fancy and everything, but I just tried to keep it as a simple design," McCarty said. "I mean, it looks cool, but it's pretty simple, pretty basic."
Most students work on their bridge designs over Christmas vacation, though they have until the first Friday after returning from vacation to complete their designs. This means that some students have had to devise interesting ways to bring their bridges through airport security. Robles made a special box with a Styrofoam cutout in the shape of his bridge to protect the design. McCarty took special precautions as he returned from vacation in Florida with his guardians.
"I carried it onto the plane," he said. "I had to be really careful with it. I had it in a box, but when it went through the metal detectors, they asked me what it was. I said 'it's for Physics, it's a project' and they were like 'OK.'"
As much fun as making bridges and then breaking them can be, the point behind the exercise is to add to the students' knowledge of how bridges are constructed and the real-world application of concepts they learn in class.
"I've learned a lot about structure and how to build something like this," McCarty said. "I've also learned how to make something that's more efficient. For example, even though theirs might have held more weight, mine was a third the weight of theirs. Efficiency matters in what you have and what it can hold."
The bridge-breaking competition was organized once again by Schlinkmann, who has run every one of the 27 contests, and he said the students learned not only through his classroom teaching but by examining each other's bridges on their return from vacation.
"When they came back and looked at each other's bridges and said, 'I've got to do that,' and so there were some adjustments," Schlinkmann said. "I think they learned something. I think they also had fun. I think they're worried because they put a lot of work into their bridges and then they have to break them. But I think it's a lot of fun."
Schlinkmann said by the time of the competition, many students are not only aware of the things that make bridges strong, they can see weaknesses too -- including flaws in their own designs.
"(McCarty) predicted right where his bridge was going to break," Schlinkmann said. "He thought it would break right through the middle and that's where it did."
Mooseheart is currently home to roughly 210 students, ranging in age from preschoolers to high school seniors. For details, visit mooseheart.org.