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Building Boats in STEM Class!

So, I had this wild idea one day and I will tell you that story in a minute- it’s all about building boats in STEM class!

I will just tell you that when my students come in and see those blue dish pans out they start cheering because they know it is Boat Day! Every grade level. Yes, even those sophisticated fifth graders love boats. This annual event is one we look forward to every fall.

STEM Challenge- Build a boat that will hold weight. Students use a budget to "purchase" materials.

The Back Story

I thought about building boats in the STEM lab for a while before I tackled it. I was not sure what materials to include so I just started grabbing junk. All I truly did was go through all my supply cabinets and pull out things that might be used.

If it looked like something students would like I pulled it out to try.

Waterproof items were a necessity.

I added plastic wrap and waxed paper to the supplies to help with leakage. After a few minutes of throwing things out on the table I thought, “Uh-oh, there are too many choices.” I knew this was going to be wasteful.

Students in STEM class use a budget and "purchase" materials to build boats.

I decided to make the supplies have a cost and the students would have to work on a budget.

Now, I did this for several reasons. First of all, I know what kids do when you put out a vast array of supplies. They pick some of everything and then try it all.

Secondly, they think the endless supply is just that- ENDLESS! So, when something is ruined they just want more.

Well, a school teacher’s budget does not lend itself well to SEVEN classes using twenty zillion straws and cups, so I settled on prices for everything, gave the kids a cost list, a planning sheet, and we got busy building boats.

Build a boat with your STEM class- students use a budget to "purchase" materials and build a floating structure that will hold weight.

The most exciting part of this challenge is, of course, testing the boats! The students all gather around as we start placing weights in the container on the boat. They count out loud and moan when the boat starts taking on water.

We keep a list on our board of the highest number of pennies in each class and it is quite competitive. The first we tried this I had a third grade team make an unsinkable boat. They filled the container with 200+ pennies and it would hold no more, but wouldn’t sink.

It’s a fabulous challenge- every student loves it! It’s a task with a budget, easy supplies, easy prep, not so hard clean up, total engagement, and 100% fun!

One quick tip: I have discovered that using real cloth towels is much better with this challenge than paper towels! Now, go get ready to float some boats!

You might also enjoy these posts about great STEM Challenges:

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  1. Hi Shantel! Thanks for visiting. It's a simple process- I made each building item have a price and the kids have a cost planning sheet. They bring their shopping list to get supplies and build. You can see this product at my Teachers Pay Teachers store. If you go to the main page it's the first product listed! Thanks for your interest!

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