Merrick APEX students test the limits of bridge design in annual contest


The 13 sixth-graders in the Merrick School District’s Alternative Program for Enriching Experiences recently spent more than four months drawing blueprints for and meticulously crafting toothpick bridges. They even visited the Center for Architecture in Manhattan to study bridge construction, from beam to cantilever, truss and arch bridges, before undertaking their projects.

Then the students destroyed their creations.

Last week, the students took part in APEX’s annual Strongest Bridge competition, in which their projects were tested to see which ones could hold the most weight. One by one, APEX teacher Sherry Ma positioned the students’ bridges between two tables and hung a coffee can attached to a thick string from the center of the mini-structures. Slowly, carefully, Ma added progressively larger lead weights to the can until a bridge snapped in an instant and crashed to the floor. The students beamed with excitement as the weights added up.

APEX students come from Birch, Chatterton and Levy-Lakeside elementary schools. Students worked on their bridges in teams of two or three students. Teams included IJ Bridge Builders, HD Studios, Builders with Bows, S.M.A.R.T., APEX Architects and T-MIC.

To build their bridges, students had to “purchase” toothpicks, glue and cardboard for land from Ma using play money, while keeping track of their expenditures in a spending journal. Each toothpick cost $5,000.

This year, students’ bridges held from 13.3 to 47.2 pounds. The strongest bridge, in fact, didn’t collapse during the competition. Ma ran out of weights before it was declared the winner. That had never happened before, she said.

In addition to strongest bridge, teams were awarded certificates for best-appearing bridge, best teamwork, best accounting and best journal.