Brother Martin builds bridges in geometry

The Geometry Bridge Project for ninth and 10th graders at Brother Martin High School combines the real world application of geometry and fun.

“Student contractors” who are architects, accountants, carpenters and project managers, are divided into groups, select a name and build a bridge from coffee stirrers that supports at least 30 pounds.

Over weeks, groups meet to develop plans, buy building supplies (stirrers), welding equipment (hot glue gun) and other needed materials.

Freshman Matthew Armbruster’s group selected the name Square Construction Company because they “liked the geometric shape of a square.”

Matthew was his group’s architect and drew up the bridge plans (a simple truss bridge was allowed by geometry teacher  Patricia Zimmer). After Zimmer gave the final plan approval, his team began the building process.

Square Construction Company added extra sticks for support. However on Bridge Breaking Day, when each bridge’s solidity was tested when Zimmer dropped 30 pounds on it, Matthew’s team fell short of goal – holding only 27 pounds.

“We did not get full credit in that area,”  Matthew said. “But our bridge was aesthetically pleasing. We excelled in that category. Looking back, the bridge project was definitely the most fun I have had in  any math class in any grade.”

His brother, Michael Armbruster, had completed the project two years ago and had a similar experience. His group was A+ Building Company.

Michael’s job as an architect was to design and draw bridge plans and ensure that the contractor followed them and stayed within a budget, since they had to buy building materials, much like real builders.

Every day for about three weeks, the A+ Building Company met to build the bridge and record progress. The last day before the 2016 Mardi Gras break for Michael was “Bridge Breaking Day!”

Zimmer also was his teacher. She suspended a bucket with weights from his bridge until it collapsed.

“I remember distinctly that my team’s bridge, nicknamed the Weaving Bridge, squeaked by and held 31 pounds.”

In addition to bridge building, honors students write a research paper about a real-world structure. Michael selected the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, but other structures were from all over the world, including the CN Tower in Toronto, the Petronas Towers in Malaysia and the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia.

Michael Armbruster is a junior and Matthew Armbruster is a freshman at Brother Martin High School.

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