Students, engineers team up on popsicle stick bridge competition

Fifth and sixth graders from Forestview Middle School judged the structural integrity of popsicle stick bridges made by professionals.

Students stack weights on a popsicle-stick bridge while other students and adults watch.
Collin Reed helps stack weights under a popsicle-stick bridge Thursday, May 25, 2023, at Widseth in Baxter. STEM students from Forestview Middle School helped judge bridges built by Widseth staff.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER — Lots of glue and triangle shapes are the key to building bridges.

At least popsicle stick bridges, according to middle schoolers.

Fifth and sixth graders who took part in an after-school bridge-building STEM program at Forestview Middle School this year put their knowledge to the test Thursday, May 25, judging bridges made by professionals.

For about the past decade, architects and engineers from Widseth have helped students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics program with their bridge projects. Last year, they thought it would be fun to invite the kids out to their office in the Baxter Industrial Park to see the engineers at work.

“It’s been a great experience, and we’ve enjoyed breaking some bridges,” said Emma Clarke, a civil engineer in training at Widseth.


Employees broke into eight groups and were tasked with building a bridge out of 100 popsicle sticks, two ounces of glue and one sheet of printer paper. Ten fifth and sixth grade students came to the offices Thursday to judge the bridges on design and test them out to determine the strongest.

A bridge decorated with groovy orange and pink designs was voted best looking, but only held up to 55 pounds of pressure when it came to the competition, as students carefully stacked on the weights.

Kids predicted a bridge named Frankenstein would win the competition, but came apart at 120 pounds didn’t quite do it. The French Revolution came out on top, withstanding 202 pounds before splintering, beating out the competition by just 8 pounds.

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Students agreed an abundance of glue was instrumental for a sturdy bridge.

“But you also want to save some for at the end when things are going wrong … and you just want to redo something,” fifth grader Kate Anderson said.

Anderson and classmate Nora King said they learned to make v’s and triangles with the sticks, as they are stronger and hold up longer than squares or rectangles.

Sixth graders Warren Bottelson and Oakley Thesen learned the importance of gussets, which are parts that hold the bridge together on the joints.

Partnering up and working together in teams was one of the best parts of the program for some students and was one of the goals for STEM adviser Layne Danielson, who hopes his kids learned something every step of the way.“It’s not just taking sticks and gluing them together, but looking at the whole process along the way, and then looking at it at the end and, ‘What was the failure of that bridge?’ and learning from that,” he said. “And then the teamwork aspect of it. They’re partnered up, working together with somebody else to complete something.”


And to destroy something, which is arguably the best part, according to King and Anderson.

“Weeks of work and then getting to destroy it,” King said.

Whether it’s the building or the destruction, the program — run by Danielson and wife Helene Danielson — has become extremely popular over the years and tends to fill up right away.

And the Widseth staff have fun, too.

“It’s really great exposure for our industry as well,” Widseth interior designer Lindsey Kriens said. “After we break the bridges, we’ll take the kids on a tour around our offices, so we explain what architects and engineers do on a day-to-day basis.”

Of course, you can’t beat the post-competition popsicles either, as a reward for that hard work.

Popsicle Stick Bridge 4 052623.jpg
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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