A visit to the Golden Gate Bridge and the accompanying outdoor Golden Gate Bridge Exhibition in the visitor area at the San Francisco end of the Bridge provide many opportunities to reinforce science, math, and social studies standards.
In addition, virtual visits to the bridge can supplement your curriculum; each of the exhibits on described on the Golden Gate Bridge Exhibition web site link to activities or information that align with NGSS and Common Core standards.
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) include engineering components that expect students to understand how success criteria and constraints on materials, time or cost impact the design of a system (NGSS 3-5-ETS1) and to generate and compare multiple possible problem solutions based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem (NGSS 3-5-ETS2).
The Golden Gate Bridge provides an opportunity to examine the impact of real constraints such as environmental loads (wind, earthquakes) and human-induced loads (traffic), geography, geology, aesthetics, politics and study how they influence the design of the Bridge.
- Engineers had to balance the advantages and disadvantages of tower height and cable size in the final design of the Golden Gate Bridge. Making them considerably taller to reduce the tension (pulling) force in the cables would have been a more difficult and expensive design alternative (NGSS 3-5-ETS1-1).
- The bridge deck must be stiff enough so that it doesn’t twist too much when high winds blow through the Golden Gate (NGSS 3-5-ETS1-1, NGSS 3-ESS3-1).
- The original design of the bridge deck needed to be changed because it performed poorly in large winds. A bracing system was added to the bottom of the deck to stiffen it so that it wouldn’t twist so much in the wind. (NGSS 3-5-ETS-2, NGSS 3-ESS3-1)
- Fog often covers the bridge in a blanket of salty corrosive moisture that can rust the steel, causing damage to the bridge’s structural members and rivets. Engineers originally used special lead-based paint to protect the bridge from corrosion. Environmental constraints required the Golden Gate Bridge District to switch to zinc-based paints (NGSS 3-5-ETS1-1).
The bridge needs to support gravitational loads as well as environmental loads such as wind pressure and earthquake shaking.
- The gravitational loads acting on the bridge include its own weight as well as the weight of the cars and people that cross the bridge (NGSS 5-PS2-1). The bridge deck trusses, towers, cables, suspenders, foundations, and anchorages all act together to support these loads.
- The wind blows through the Golden Gate pushing sideways on the towers and the deck. Faster winds cause larger forces to act on the bridge. Bridge designers needed to consider the fastest winds that could blow when they calculated the strength and size of the members on the bridge. (NGSS 3-5-ETS1-1)
- The Bay Area experiences very large earthquakes, such as the M7.8 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Special devices called seismic isolators have been installed on the bridge to minimize damage during future earthquakes. (NGSS 3-5-ETS1-1)
History and Social Sciences
The state history and social sciences standards expect students to apply chronological and spatial thinking, use primary and secondary sources for research, explain the context of historical events, and interpret the impact of history on the physical and social character of a place.
The Golden Gate Bridge was an extraordinary science and engineering accomplishment of its time that forever changed the development of the Bay Area. The bridge, its exhibits, and surrounding artifacts provide a rich source of information about the history of technology and the history of the Bay Area.
- The History Exhibit, which consists of a mural and nine companion interpretive panels, chronicles the history of the design and construction of the Bridge. It includes political hurdles and creation of the Golden Gate Bridge District, economic considerations including the impact of the Great Depression, people responsible for the success of the project, engineering innovations, and the sequence of the construction of the Bridge.
- Because the Golden Gate Bridge is an international icon, seismic retrofits and other improvements have focused on retaining the art deco style and architectural features that define the Bridge. Maintaining the unique historical character of the Bridge has been a top priority in projects to replace Bridge members and add base isolators.
- Visitors can walk across the Bridge and imagine what it was like on May 27, 1937, Pedestrian Day, of the Opening Fiesta Week when 200,000 people each paid 25 cents to walk across the Bridge.
- Pedestrians on the Bridge can compare the vehicles zooming across the Bridge today to the Golden Gate Ferry system, which until 1937 was the only way to travel between San Francisco and the counties to the north.
- The Bridge is located next to several historic seacoast fortifications including Fort Scott, Fort Point, and the Civil War era East and West batteries. Portions of the outdoor Golden Gate Bridge Exhibition are housed in Battery Lancaster, where students can get a close up view of the large iron rings that were used to maneuver the guns in the battery.