The Gervais Street bridge and the Congaree River provided the backdrop for Wednesday's on-site discussion of compression and tension.
With recorders in hand, middle-school students temporarily put their textbooks aside for an interactive, hands-on lesson in bridge design.
"Normally, when you go over a bridge, you don't think about things like compression and tension," said Fulmer Middle School seventh-grader Rebecca Bratcher. "I think of bridges more as a machine, especially the drawbridge, because it is a machine."
Encouraging that type of reasoning is at the heart of a science and math initiative launched this week by Time Warner Cable.
Connect A Million Minds seeks to provide middle-schoolers with learning opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math to help develop skills needed for success in those areas.
On Wednesday, students from Fulmer Middle School in Lexington 2 and Longleaf Middle School in Richland 2 explored various activities at EdVenture Children's Museum, an official partner in the Time Warner initiative.
As part of the day's learning, students toured the nearby SCE&G hydroelectric plant for a lesson on water dynamics.
"I wanted to know how they controlled the rivers," said Longleaf seventh-grader Jermaine McIntosh. "I thought that you just had to turn on some knobs, but I found out that you actually have to use a computer."
Students also got a lesson on gyroscopes, complete with rides on motorized Segways.
For Bratcher, the hands-on learning was more appealing than many classroom assignments. "I think that sometimes it's a little boring when you just sit in class and read about it," she said. "But when you get up close and see it, it's a lot more fascinating."
Each of the nearly 40 student participants was given a portable video camera to record and share their experiences while at the museum.
Time Warner has committed $3 million to the Connect A Million Minds program over five years in South Carolina as part of a $100 million commitment nationwide. The company presented the first $45,000 of that contribution during Wednesday's kickoff celebration at EdVenture.
"With 80 percent of jobs in the next decade requiring science, technology and math skills, building excitement in these areas is critical to helping students succeed," said Charlene Keys, vice president and general manager of Time Warner Cable Columbia.
EdVenture president and CEO Catherine Horne said Connect A Million Minds reinforces the museum's goal of modeling practical learning in science, math and technology.
"We live in a world that increasingly sets big expectations for an educated, skilled workforce fluent in these areas," Horne said.