I know that there are several popular STEM challenges that involve bridge building, so I’m sharing with you a series of books you can use to enrich your lesson and help your students think more deeply about bridges.  (Not sure what a bridge building engineering challenge is?  You can check out our blog post here.)

A Book of Bridges: Here to There – And Me to You is an excellent text to begin your challenge because it helps students to think about the purpose of bridges.  Your students may or may not have had experience crossing a bridge in a vehicle or even on foot.  Or they may be thinking about a bridge in a narrow way – like bridges are only constructed to help us cross waterways.

Here to There – And Me to You explores different types of bridges. Before reading this text, ask your students to put on their engineer thinking caps and to think about different problems bridges can solve. This encourages the students to develop their engineering mindset and establishes a purpose for listening to the text.
As you read the text, have students identify the problems bridges in the text are solving. Then take it a step further and go in depth for a few of the bridges by discussing criteria and constraints the engineer needed to meet for those specific projects.

Once you have broadened their view of the purpose of bridges, you can read Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing by April Jones Prince.  This beautifully illustrated picture book tells the true story of P.T. Barnum’s stunt to instill confidence in the strength of the Brooklyn Bridge by having his 21 elephants cross it. It is brief and to the point and provides all of the “hook” you need to lead into your bridge-building challenge.

There is another version of this same true story that is told from a young girl’s viewpoint.  It is titled:  Twenty-One Elephants by Phil Bildner. This second version adds more detail to the story, has more straightforward prose, and gives specific arguments people may have made for why they believed the bridge wasn’t sound.  Both texts are good choices.

Questions to Ask While Reading:

The book’s front cover by April Jones Prince is a classic opportunity for your students to break out their predicting skills.  Show the cover to your students and ask: What do you notice?  What do you wonder? Why do you think this image is on the cover of the book?

If you use the Phil Bildner version, the text is an excellent opportunity to discuss opinions versus facts and evidence. As a class, you can track the reasons (opinions) that people think the bridge isn’t safe and how the little girl refutes each claim with facts and evidence.  What a great connection to the Science and Engineering Practice of Engaging in Argument from Evidence!

Whichever book you choose to read, you can discuss with your class why they think P.T. Barnum decided to stage such an elaborate test of the bridge.  Why do you think he believed it was safe?  What does the text say about one person’s ability to make a difference?

After the challenge, I would read Someone Builds the Dream.  The author drives home the point that although engineers and architects are important, so are welders, construction workers, plumbers, and hundreds of tradesmen who execute their vision.  Many skilled workers are required to build the structures, and this is an important message for your students to internalize.

If you are looking for additional science texts, check out StarrMatica Texts: Science Your Way, our library of K-5 science informational texts that can be customized to meet specific Common Core ELA standards. Each 1st – 5th grade text has multiple reading levels so all of your students can read the same content independently.

Not a subscriber?  Click here for a free trial to access our entire library of texts.

And if you are looking for additional picture books for your science classroom, check out the Perfect Picture Book Pairing Series that includes one-page guides with activities and discussion questions for hundreds of STEM-themed picture books aligned to every NGSS performance expectation!