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Supportive Shapes

In this activity, students will prototype, build, and test bridge designs.

This is a recommended pre- or post-visit activity to Animal Architects enhanced gallery experience at Science World.


  • Prototype, build, and test bridge designs to explore design differences.


  • Per Student:
    rectangular sheets of paper, uniform in size. One for each student

  • Per Student Group or Pair:
    5 pennies or metal washers

Key Questions

  • Which bridge design was the strongest? Have each group share their reasons why some bridges were stronger than others. Did the strongest bridge from each group have the same shape?
  • Did the placement of the pennies have any effect on how much a bridge could hold (stacked in one spot versus spread out)?

What To Do

  1. As an introduction to the relationship between shapes, strength and structures, place the students in groups of 3 and give them each a sheet of paper. Within each group, have each student build a different shaped bridge. Examples of shapes include a tube, accordion, box or platform.

2. Have students place their bridges so that they span a gap between 2 stacks of books, or desktops.

3. Now have the groups compare strengths of the different designs by using coins as measured weights. Place coins, one at a time, on each bridge—first as a stack and then spread out—and record the number of coins that the bridge will hold before it collapses.