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Two educators from The New NY Bridge—what most call the new Tappan Zee bridge—recently visited Katonah Elementary School’s second grade.
The visit was part show-and-tell, with educators passing around artifacts from the bridge’s construction including a section of cable, a hard hat and reflective vest, and some oyster shells. And it was part serious conversation about calculations, process, and structure with eager seven and eight year olds.
“They asked some great engineering questions,” said Daniel Marcy, the educator with the NY Thruway Authority who led the discussion.
This is STEM Education in action—using a real life situation to teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics in an interdisciplinary and applied approach.
“This visit ties in directly with what the students are learning,” said Kim Marchini, mom of a second grader and member of the Katonah Elementary School Enrichment Committee responsible for the program. “The children are just starting a science unit called Balance and Weight, and they just finished a social studies unit that compares life in different eras of American history.”
“This is the bridge of a lifetime,” began Marcy. “You don’t see big bridges like this being built all of the time. The Tappan Zee Bridge will be 61 years old on December 15, 2016.”
Hands shot up immediately.
“Is the new bridge going to last more than 61 years?”
“We want the new bridge to make it up to 100 years before we even need to do maintenance,” answered Marcy.
“Why do we need a new bridge?” asked Marcy. The children answered from their experiences. The bridge is crowded, dangerous, and there’s no shoulder. “Exactly,” said Marcy. “The Tappan Zee Bridge was built for 100,000 cars each day. When it opened in 1955, 18,000 cars crossed the bridge each day. Last year 140,000 cars crossed each day.”
Marcy showed students the architect’s drawings for the bridge, while highlighting key elements. “The New NY Bridge is not a suspension bridge, like the George Washington Bridge. It is a cable stayed design, which uses cables that run directly to towers to support the bridge deck. We brought in a super crane to lift giant pieces of material for the platforms that support the new bridge's towers.”
Super heroes, superman, super bowl, super crane, the students’ expressions lit up in anticipation. “I’ve seen the super crane,” one said. Others nodded.
“We brought in one of the world’s largest cranes,” said Marcy. “We call it the I LIFT NY super crane. It can lift 3.8 million pounds—twelve times the weight of the Statue of Liberty!”
“It was in California so we had to tow it down the west coast.” Marcy traced the route for the students on the classroom map of the world. “It crossed the Panama Canal, and was towed up the east coast. This trip took six months. And the toll for crossing the Panama Canal was $70,000!”
“My aunt and six cousins were stuck on the bridge when the crane fell,” a student said.
“That wasn’t the super crane," said Marcy. “A smaller crane tipped over in an accident this past summer. No one was hurt. This is still under investigation. We want to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”
“By the time you are in third grade, all traffic on the bridge will be on the new northbound lanes,” said Marcy. “Then, we’ll take the old bridge down safely and slowly. It will be cut into sections. The super crane will lift pieces onto barges, and it will float away. We’ll recycle the steel, and the NYS Thruway will reclaim the road deck.”
(picture: the Katonah Elementary School student is shown with Andrew P.O’Rourke, Educational Outreach, The New NY Bridge Project)