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Building bridges: Kasson-Mantorville students get 'immersive' taste of engineering

"Simply by introducing some of these terms -- like 'force of gravity' and the fact that shapes have strength -- really helps set up that early learning and understanding for later," said Cindy Morgan, MnDOT Public Engagement Coordinator.

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Adalynn Leonard, a second-grader at Kasson-Mantorville Elementary School, tests out a bridge she and her classmates put together during a bridge building exercise put on by the Minnesota Department of Transportation while learning about engineering careers Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, in Kasson. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
Joe Ahlquist
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KASSON -- Students at Kasson-Mantorville Elementary School on Tuesday were given a handful of pieces of steel and a set of directions: build a bridge.

According to the Southeast Service Cooperative, the project is part of a year of "immersive experience" for the second-grade class, during which the students will get to learn from real professionals about various kinds of work. On Tuesday, they began learning about bridges from the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

“The elementary years are not too soon for students to discover different careers,” KM Superintendent Mark Matuska said. “We are excited when students have the opportunity for hands-on experiences that are guided by industry professionals.”

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From left, Landry Kester, Finnian Ross and Brody Thompson, all second-graders at Kasson-Mantorville Elementary School, work on a bridge building exercise put on by the Minnesota Department of Transportation while learning about engineering careers Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, in Kasson. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
Joe Ahlquist

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The students were given different roles: safety inspector, parts supplier, and so on. Together, they had to construct a 6-foot version of a truss bridge.

During a break, MnDOT project estimator Sam Muench told the students about the different types of bridges around the world: suspension bridges, truss bridges, lift bridges, and even more.

There's a bridge near Virginia, Minn., he said, that is 194 feet high.

"Holy cheese!" a student exclaimed.

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Jane Alberts, left, and Sophia Bremer, both second-graders at Kasson-Mantorville Elementary School, work on a bridge building exercise put on by the Minnesota Department of Transportation while learning about engineering careers Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, in Kasson. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
Joe Ahlquist

Muench started to talk about one of the longest bridges in Minnesota, located in Duluth.

"It's a mile and a half long," he said. "You could drive forever to get over that bridge, right?"

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"I've been to Duluth!" another student offered up.

When all the pieces were assembled -- when all the bolts had been tightened and checked -- the second-graders got to try out their handiwork. As a team, they lifted the bridge, resting each end on a pair of desks. And then, one at a time, they crawled across it.

Cindy Morgan, MnDOT public engagement coordinator, said the project helps students develop teamworking skills.

"We're really happy to be able to do it again," Morgan said about working with students in the schools. "Simply by introducing some of these terms -- like 'force of gravity' and the fact that shapes have strength -- really helps set up that early learning and understanding for later."

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Second-graders at Kasson-Mantorville Elementary School, including Landry Kester, center, work on a bridge building exercise put on by the Minnesota Department of Transportation while learning about engineering careers Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, in Kasson. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
Joe Ahlquist

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Related Topics: EDUCATIONKASSON-MANTORVILLE
Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or jshearer@postbulletin.com.
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