Student teaching builds bridges

Jennifer Greenstein

Princeton NJ -- Twenty-three seventh-graders huddled eagerly around Christy Sander '03 as she placed weights along a bridge made from Popsicle sticks, masking tape and corrugated plastic.


Christy Sander '03 designed a bridge-building contest for seventh-graders at the John Witherspoon Middle School in Princeton as part of the University's Learn-by-Teaching program. The students watched intently as Sander placed weights along the span of each team's bridge -- constructed with Popsicle sticks, masking tape and corrugated plastic -- to test its construction.  (photo: Jennifer Greenstein)


"It's still standing," reported 12-year-old Carley Moseley as she admired her creation, a two-foot-long suspension bridge that was still intact with 10 pounds of weights along its span. It buckled at 15 pounds, the class record. "Not bad," Moseley said.

The bridge-building assignment is one of dozens of projects under way this spring as part of the University's Learn-by-Teaching initiative. The program offers undergraduates the chance to spend several days teaching some of what they have learned in their science and engineering courses to youngsters at local schools.

Run by the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, the program gives Princeton students an alternative way to complete their coursework while gaining exposure to teaching. And it enriches the science classes of hundreds of Mercer County youngsters in the third through ninth grades.

This semester, 67 Princeton students participated. Enrolling in the program allows a student to skip a term paper or final exam and teach three days instead. Preparation involves practical teaching methods including the development of innovative lesson plans.

"It's been an incredible experience," said Sander, a history major who did the project for a civil and environmental engineering course called "Structures and the Urban Environment." "I can't believe what the kids have come up with," she said.

The project also was a hit with the seventh-graders, who attend John Witherspoon Middle School in Princeton. Mike Denchak enjoyed building his suspension bridge because "we got to show our talent and creativity." "Plus we get to wreck them," another student noted.

The bridge wrecking was, of course, part of the lesson. After figuring out which team's bridge was the most economical -- several teams exceeded their budget in string and Popsicle sticks -- each bridge was tested to see how much weight it would hold.

The students were riveted as they watched their creations go down one by one. Sander placed half-pound weights along each of the bridges, which were suspended between two tables. Some lurched slowly to their finale; others snapped in two.

Roz Goldberg, a retired high school teacher recruited by the program to advise the Princeton students, said the projects were an effective way for college students, particularly non-science majors, to absorb the lessons of a science course.

"From a teacher's point of view, you never really understand something until you can explain it to someone else," she said. "They really had to understand it to explain it to seventh-graders."

The program also encourages many students to start to consider careers in education. Program director Margaret Fels said one Princeton senior, who participated in the course last year, will start teaching at a middle school in Washington, D.C., this fall. "This is a more lasting experience than taking the final exam," she said.


May 21, 2001
Vol. 90, No. 28
previous   archives   next


New president
Professor named 19th president
Time is right for Tilghman
Reaction enthusiastic for new leader
Family comes first for new president
Shirley Tilghman bio

Life sciences
Search is on for genomics institute head
Silver: Doubling not necessarily troubling
Landweber tracks changes in genetic code
Virus leaves trail in brain for researchers

Students and alumni
Thesis sparks thriving teacher corps
Recent grad's first novel attracts attention
Student teaching builds bridges
New program preps local students for success

Other news
Merck funds professorship to honor alumnus
Hair colors literary, artistic representations
Class size makes a difference

Remaining discretionary funds to increase staff salaries
Doig announces retirement
Barron is new women's hoops coach
Thirteen faculty members transfer to emeritus status

By the numbers: Reunions
Nassau Notes
Calendar of events

The Bulletin is published weekly during the academic year, except during University breaks and exam weeks, by the Office of Communications, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544. Permission is given to adapt, reprint or excerpt material from the Bulletin for use in other media.

Deadline. In general, the copy deadline for each issue is the Friday 10 days in advance of the Monday cover date. The deadline for the Bulletin that covers June 4&endash;17 is Friday, May 25. A complete publication schedule is available at deadlines or by calling (609) 258-3601.

Subscriptions. The Bulletin is distributed free to faculty, staff and students. Others may subscribe to the Bulletin for $24 for the academic year (half price for current Princeton parents and people over 65). Send a check to Office of Communications, Stanhope Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544.

Editor: Ruth Stevens
Calendar editor: Carolyn Geller
Contributing writers: Jennifer Greenstein, Pam Hersh, Marilyn Marks, Steven Schultz, Regina Tan
Photographer: Denise Applewhite
Design: Mahlon Lovett, Laurel Masten Cantor
Web edition: Mahlon Lovett