Wheatland seventh and eighth grade students set sail on KD Lake Sept. 29 to put projects from their latest STEAM challenge to the test. Groups were challenged to design and build a working boat made of cardboard with the capability to support one person rowing from the dock to a point on the shore 25 yards away.
Design criteria and constraints required the vessel to have sides and look like a boat. In other words, no raft or surfboard style vessels. They had hold the weight of one team member, and use only recyclable materials and duct tape.
Teams were also tasked with incorporating a theme, which involved decorating their boat, dressing up and including a flag that represents their group. The result was a design challenge that takes a lot of problem solving, teamwork and possibly a personal flotation device.
After learning about the structure of cardboard, the various techniques to attach pieces, nuances of flag design and the important parts of a boat, students used the design process to create their craft. They formed groups of four to five and began making their models come to life with a real world performance objective with consequences - either the boat floats, or they get wet.
“This project allows for students to capitalize on their varied strengths while learning important 21st century skills," said Megan Zirbel, middle school science teacher. "Group members learn to effectively communicate ideas, problem solve as designs do not meet expectations, and compromise while working toward a common goal - getting their boat to float and win.”
Students were fully engaged during the design process because they knew that their end products would be put to the ultimate test. They worked together to develop a theme for their boats and their creativity is on full display.
“This project taught me the importance of using the design process to plan a design first," said Sophie Wilson, a seventh grade student. "I also used the rule, ‘measure twice, cut once’ to be successful. Unfortunately, my boat didn’t float, but this project was a lot of fun because I got closer to my classmates.”
Mrs. Megan Zirbel, middle school science teacher said the challenge gave students an opportunity to show individual strengths they may not be able to show in a traditional classroom setting.
“The collaborative process enhances students' abilities to communicate ideas effectively and allows for students to get to know one another on a deeper level," Zirbel said. "This year we added walk up music for each team as well as had seventh graders race eighth graders. As teachers, we are also utilizing the design process as we plan improvements for next year. We hope to develop a second engineering design contest and are just as excited as the students for the next opportunity to test our design.”
This year, a variety of different themes were employed. From patriotic themed boats to boats featuring aliens; from toilet bowls and fruit to Barbie and celebrities, the themes were as diverse as the students who participated.
“I liked that we were given a choice in our theme and walk up music," Scherer said. "It added some variety to the boats and a personal touch for every group.”
For some students, such as Reagan Seewald, an eighth grade student, the project was a way to connect with other classmates.
“I liked the team building because I am new here and I didn’t know that many people at the beginning of the year," Seewald said. "It gave us extra time to get to know one another and our learning styles.” .
Michael Meinen, an eighth grade student said it was, “(His) favorite day of school.”
Thomas Hartley, Middle School PATHS teacher, new to the project this year, said the project made his students excited to be in class.
“This project made the students the most excited to be in the classroom and students are begging for the next opportunity to participate in a design contest," Hartley said. "It was an awesome opportunity to watch students support each other in both rowing successes and sinking failures. I hope to brainstorm some ideas for contests during the second and third trimester.”