Michelle Simmons | November 2018

Building STEAM

If you are driving around Pensacola, Florida, chances are you will encounter some sort of road construction. While most days it is a nuisance, recently I saw it in a new light. The Pensacola Bay Bridge, or 3 Mile Bridge, is one of the main passageways to get to the gulf coast and it also is a major hurricane evacuation route. The current bridge, while still operational, is getting to the end of its lifetime. Construction has been underway of the new Pensacola Bay Bridge since the spring 2017. The project will cost a whopping $389.5 million dollars and is set to be completed mid-2020. This bridge is one of the largest projects in Northwest Florida history.

So, what does this bridge have to do with the classroom and STEAM education? Well, along with the project, FDOT had a group of educators come together to create a STEAM outreach curriculum for elementary, middle, and high school students called Pensacola Bay Bridge goes to School. Included in this curriculum are PowerPoints and lessons that include a variety of topics like the history of the bridge, importance of bridges, and marine life. All of this culminates to complete a STEAM project. For example, the elementary students are prompted to build a gumdrop bridge.

While listening to a presentation on this bridge outreach project. My brain was working a mile a minute of how this would look in my classroom as well as others across the country. I loved the idea of taking something real like the construction of a bridge in our city and bringing it into the classroom. But furthermore, I saw the applicable nature of the entire construction industry. As educators, we hear constantly about the importance of making education “relevant”. Well, there isn’t much I can think of that is more relevant than an actual construction site.

3 Construction-Based STEAM Ideas 


Look around your city to find a relevant construction project. Make sure it is something that the kids will be able to interact with or see often. This will help make the project more relevant. Then, go from there. Construction based STEAM projects are everywhere – from bridges to tents to towers. Look under “Free Resources” and the Lessons tab on the EducationCloset website for ideas that could meet your needs.


Think about all the careers that deal with our construction industry. Architects, Engineers, Electrician, Plumbers, Carpenters, Masons, etc. Now imagine involving them in your classroom STEAM project. My own father is a civil engineer, and he loves to talk to students about all the different things he is able to do with his job.

  • These projects create curiosity in our children. I don’t know about you, but often times my students challenge me with questions I cannot answer because that is not my field of expertise. Now I am usually able to do some research with the student and figure out the answer, but how much better would it be to come from an expert in the field? Having this connection at your hands could help answer those questions that we know are going to come up.


Making lasting connections in our curriculum is so important. As educators, we strive to make sure that our students’ learning “sticks”. I guarantee that children will remember these lessons because they will be real to them. I know after we complete the Pensacola Bay Bridge project my kids will think back to this lesson every time they travel over the bridge.

  • More than just remembering their education, older students need to see the relevance of their education. I think this is one of the most important aspects of STEAM education. There are real people with real jobs out there that use the skill sets they are learning in class. Having students interact with real projects and real professionals will lead to future generations of architects, engineers, and other construction professionals.

STEAM is all around us. So the next time you get frustrated at the bridge that is taking forever to complete, see if you can turn it into a learning opportunity for your students. The Pensacola Bay Bridge project helped me see construction in a new way. So put your hard hats on and get to looking.

About the Author

Michelle is a 5th grade ELA teacher in Pensacola, Florida. Originally from Mississippi, she has over seven years of experience in grades 2nd - 5th. She holds a Education Specialist Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Delta State University. Michelle is an avid lover of the arts and believes in using them as a gateway to broaden her students' understanding and compassion.