Chris Bigelow

Disparate thoughts and musings…

Project Lead The Way® and the “Indestructible” Bridge

Last Thursday night I had planned on attending my first meetup of the Social Media Club of Rochester.  Until I found out that Avon High was presenting their first annual Project Lead the Way® Technology Fair.  Since my son had several projects that would be on display, the choice was easy – Tech Fair.

First, a little history is in order.  Project Lead The Way® (“PLTW”) is a national program with heavy participation in NY and IN.  Avon High was one of the charter schools first involved in the program, which began with 12 schools in New York State in 1997,  and they have developed a great program.  While there are some different flavors nationally, including biomedical sciences, Avon only offers the engineering option.  During their four years of high school the students take five engineering classes.  Classes include:

  • Introduction to Engineering Design™
  • Principles of Engineering™
  • Digital Electronics™
  • Computer Integrated Manufacturing™
  • Engineering Design and Development™

Avon’s classes were created in conjunction with RIT (every school’s PLTW program is affiliated with a local university or college).  Part of the student’s final exam is created by RIT.  If the student gets a sufficiently good grade, they can receive credit from RIT by paying a $200 fee.  So upon successful completion of the program (and payment of a cumulative $1000 fee) they already have credit for five classes at RIT.  I believe the credits go towards technical electives, but don’t quote me on that.  Credits aside, it is a wonderful introduction to engineering for students who are inclined to go that way.  Long before they leave high school they know if that is the right path for them or not.

Thursday night’s demo was, among the many other displays, supposed to include the destruction of Avon’s second place winning bridge from the Tech Wars competition held earlier in the year at GCC in Batavia.  Many schoolsAvon bridge3-cropped & blurred & re-cropped competed, but only Avon’s bridge survived a maximum 400 pound load (all the weight plates they had available) without collapsing.  The bridge of the team that won held the load for the required minimum time before it, too, became so much kindling .  That team was awarded first because of design efficiency – – their bridge weighed 1 to 1-1/2 pounds less than Avon’s bridge.  But on to the exciting part.

Avon’s PLTW students set the bridge up on the test rig and started loading plates.  400 pounds came and went – no surprise there based upon the Tech Wars performance.  At 505 pounds they ran out of plates and had to go to the weight room for more.  They kept adding plates until running out again at something like 940 pounds.  Two kids went for yet more plates.  They wanted to see if they could reach 1/2 ton.  Ultimately, they stopped adding plates at 1090 pounds due to safety concerns.  That and they had run out of room to load any more onto the guide pipe.  Simply amazing for a wooden bridge with glued joints that itself weighs maybe 9 pounds.

Think this is something that would interest your child?  To learn more about PLTW, please vist  The web site has a section where you can look up which schools offer the program – it’s an easy way to see if your school district does.


  Richard Sobczak wrote @

Hi Chris: great blog, and great bridge strength. Keep up the good work. Dick

  Joe Werner wrote @


Nice post, and congrats to your son and his classmates. I wish they had these kinds of classes when I was in high school.

  John Clement wrote @


This brings back fond memories for me. As a high school student, I entered a science fair event sponsored by Buehl Science Center in Pittsburgh (where I grew up). I built a bridge out of coffee stirs, balsa wood, and glue. I displayed the project on a table with a set of mirrors underneath so observers could see the underneath structural detail. I won third prize in the event. Now, I seriously doubt my design could have held 1/2 ton, but it sure did look good. Thanks for sharing your story–it brought back some fond memories for me!!

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