How much do five year olds like to build bridges?
In early April, a team of five planners, engineers, and public involvement specialists from planning firm Fitzgerald & Halliday, Inc., found out just how much when they visited the kindergarteners at the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC) Museum Academy as part of the APA Ambassador Pilot Program.
On a typical day, the team works on the I-84 Hartford Project, a large scale initiative to rebuild the busiest stretch of highway in Connecticut. Working with the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT), the group set out to discuss the highway in our capital city, and to explore the shapes and materials that make roads, bridges, and tunnels function best.
Located in Bloomfield, Connecticut, a suburb of Hartford, the museum academy is a magnet school that draws 50 percent of its students from Hartford, and the other half from throughout the region, creating a culturally diverse school community. Many of the students travel the highway to get to school.
Schools within the CREC organization build curriculum around a specific theme. The Museum Academy focuses experiences on ... you guessed it ... the museum theme, providing a rich, humanities-based curriculum. The traditional learning environment is enhanced by the 5E inquiry model, encouraging students to engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate.
These emerging skills are well aligned with the disciplines of today's planners!
Presenting to kindergarten class on transportation and bridge and tunnel types. Photo courtesy Fitzgerald and Halliday, Inc.
The team was divided into the three kindergarten classrooms. Following a short presentation exploring transportation and bridge and tunnel types, the Ambassadors fielded loads of questions from 5-year-olds. The classes broke out into small groups, ready for the real fun to begin — building structures out of spaghetti and marshmallows.
The Ambassadors demonstrated how to build, focusing on how strong shapes make for strong infrastructure. Many students quickly got the hang of it, and took the activity to the next level.
Students worked collaboratively and diligently. They engineered creative roads, bridges, tunnels, and buildings. After a while, an Ambassador asked a teacher if it was time to shift gears. "They're really into this," she responded, "and they never get to play. Let them continue a while."
After sharing out their creations, the classes gathered in a circle to do a sensory activity. CTDOT donated samples of materials. The children got to touch, weigh, and make distinctions between concrete, asphalt, tar, aggregate base (crushed rock used for the foundation of roads), steel nuts, bolts, and bars. This was a big hit!
Teams of Kindergarteners engineering creative roads, bridges, tunnels, and buildings. Photo courtesy Fitzgerald and Halliday, Inc.
All in all, the team was impressed with the collective knowledge, opinions, and collaborative engineering skills these young kids brought to the table. As part of their civic-minded school theme, they hosted an Exhibition Night in May to display some of the great work they did during the APA Ambassador session. Family, friends, and faculty attended the sensational event.
FHI is a multi-disciplinary planning firm with offices in Hartford, Connecticut; New York City; and Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Team members included Michael Morehouse, vice president of strategy and innovation and a transportation engineer; Marcy Miller, AICP, senior project manager; Shawna Kitzman, AICP, senior planner; Michael Coulom, planner; and Debbie Hoffman, project coordinator.
Top image: Shawna Kitzman, AICP, presenting to CREC Kindergarten class. Photo by FHI.
About the Author
Shawna Kitzman, AICP, is the senior planner at FHI.