How I Use It
I tried Bridge Constructor with a small group of students each using their own computer. The goal was to have 6th grade students with a limited physics background try to build bridges. The students liked the "hook" - building bridges for an island that was hit by an earthquake and their goal was to reconstruct the bridges. The trial and error feature of the game was very good, if one approach did not work you tried another approach and you were provided with a hint as to whether the bridge could not meet the load. Students however were unsure as to how to correct their bridges and after several failed tries became frustrated and did not want to continue. When a student succeeded and their bridge supported the weight of the cars, they were unable to articulate how they figured out what worked. They did not have an adequate vocabulary and background knowledge in physics to understand best ways to construct bridges and the concept of stress and load. They did like the idea of having to work within a budget and did try several ways to solve the problem and stay within budget. A couple of student stated that it would have been helpful if they were provided hints as to what to try and some guided suggestions so they could meet with some success. Pairing students together seemed to help more students meet with success and a few pairs were able to complete levels 1,2,3,4. After level 4 the bridge construction problems became to complex for all the students.
This would not work as a teaching tool for 6th graders. Their background in physics is very limited and although many students had built bridges out of toothpicks, there was no carry over of knowledge to help them with this task. I liked the problem-solving nature of this software and I really liked the trial and error component. If there were more hints along the way and more direction for students, I think that they could have met with more success. They need to be able to meet with success early on in the game in order for them to want to continue to play and I observed their frustration when they did not meet with any success. I would not have students work on this independently and working as pairs seemed to encourage students to work collaboratively and they enjoyed the game more. This is definitely more appropriate for high school level student.