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Every year for 12 years, a few Grade 6 students at Rose Valley Elementary tussle with history. They want to build a better spaghetti bridge than their predecessors in the Okanagan College Spaghetti Bridge competition.
“They always want to beat the weight form the previous year,” said Jim Bradshaw, who has taught Grade 6 for 13 years. “Last year, it was 48 pounds before it broke. So that will be their goal this year — to beat 48 pounds.”
Bradshaw watched the annual bridge competition when he attended Okanagan University College, which, in 2005, transitioned into Okanagan College and the University of British Columbia Okanagan.
As soon as he started teaching at Rose Valley, Bradshaw used the bridge-building competition to entice his students to study harder because only the top six or seven make the team.
“The biggest criteria: maintain your Gs and work ethic for all the subjects, not just math and science. And they have to be fairly high standing in math, about 80 per cent.”
The team is chosen in December and members start cruising the Internet looking at bridges they might want to build. The first week in January, they present their drawn-to-scale design to Bradshaw. Then, they work eight to 10 hours a week for 10 weeks on the bridge.
For some students, the goal of making the bridge team starts long before they get to Grade 6.
“A lot of classes will see my kids building a bridge and it becomes ‘I want to do that when I get in his class.’”
MacKenna is one of them. “Ever since Grade 3 I’ve wanted to be in Mr. Bradshaw’s class and I have been looking forward to doing the spaghetti bridge. I’ve always looked at it and thought, ‘how cool is that, a bridge of glue and spaghetti, and this is the math.’”
Gorga is the veteran on the team since she was on a bridge-building team in Grade 3 while Tryphena is looking forward to Friday and “the competition and to see everyone else’s bridges and how they built them.”
While elementary school kids don’t compete in the contest, Rose Valley is allowed to test its bridges to see how much weight they will take before shattering.
“We don’t get to be part of the competition, it’s more of a display, but because I’ve gone for so many years, they let my kids pick their bridge.
They don’t follow the specs like the elementary kids do. They try to build the bridge like the big kids do. They put the hooks on and it culminates putting the weight on our bridge and seeing how much it will hold.
“The best is 78 pounds,” he said. “We actually had one student hang from the middle without it breaking.”
Bradshaw is always impressed by the growth of the students on the team.
“I see these kids go from being an individual who doesn’t interact much to being part of a team. They all work well together, they job share and prioritize. I see them taking their learning to a whole another level. So much learning goes on without using pencil and book.”
While only the top students build the bridge, the whole class is involved and learns from the project.
“I take my whole class with me so they can be part of the audience. When we finish, we tour the trades building and parts of the college. I want them to have an idea of what’s ahead for them.”
“When I take them for a tour of trades centre, some girls have found there are options there for them. They are getting an idea that science is not just a boy’s subject.”
But in spite of taking the bus to the college, the excitement of finding out whether the bridge will hold more weight than the previous year, touring the college, the best part has nothing to do with book learning. They are, after all, kids.
“The highlight is having lunch in the cafeteria.”