Doherty students build a bridge out of chopsticks

COURTESY PHOTODoherty Middle School students recently competed in the 19th annual Model Bridge Competition at Northeastern University. From left to right, Top: Anthony Helinski, Maya Jensen. Bottom: Ben Winkler, Alex Rickards, Akshay Godhani.

The team overseeing Massachusetts roadways could learn a thing or two from this bunch.

Doherty Middle School students Maya Jensen, Akshay Godhani, Alex Rickards, Ben Winkler, Jake Costello, and their engineering teacher Anthony Helinski traveled to Northeastern University's Curry Student Center last month to participate in the 19th annual Model Bridge Competition.

Hosted by the Boston Society of Civil Engineers, the Massachusetts Pre-Engineering Program and the Massachusetts Highway Department, the competition challenged students across the commonwealth to design and build a sturdy, efficient and aesthetically pleasing bridge from specified materials. 

But rather than make them out of concrete and steel, the group was tasked to used chopsticks and hot glue.

According to Helinski, "students enthusiastically embraced the challenge, rolled up their sleeves and began construction in November 2014. Following strict parameters and employing the engineering design process, the team met weekly to experiment with different models, discuss strategy and problem-solve in the Doherty Middle School engineering lab."

On the morning of the competition, the group toured the Northeastern University Campus, excited to participate in a professional and official competition against students from 8- to 18-years-old. 

The event "offered students both a unique opportunity to experience real world problem-solving and exposure to the engineering profession," he said.

Team Doherty finished in the middle of the pack in the competition of more than 20 teams. Immediately after the event concluded, the group set its sights on next year's competition - eager for another learning experience and an even better finish.

"This type of stuff wasn't around when I was in school," Helinski said. "For these kids to now be able to use models and project based learning to really apply concepts that have more of a hands-on feel, and concepts they see in everyday life, they're not just reading out of a textbook. These projects are an extension to learning that can't be bought."

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