Wheatland Center School students learn what it takes to float in STEAM cardboard boat challenge

/Submitted photo

You might think STEAM learning is all about high tech, but sometimes learning a solid STEAM lesson can come down to cardboard, tape and water.

That’s what Wheatland Center School students recently learned with their cardboard boat challenge.

From a news release from the school:

Wheatland students hit the water on KD lake Thursday to take up their latest STEAM challenge. The mission…build a vessel out of cardboard capable of supporting at least one person to follow a 25 yard race course. The directions say… this is not a model! This is an actual passenger carrying vessel!  It must have sides and look like a boat – no raft or surfboard style vessels. What results is a design challenge that takes a lot of problem solving, teamwork and possibly a personal flotation device.

After learning about the structure of cardboard, and the important parts of a boat, students use the design process to create their craft. They form small groups and begin making their models come to life with a real world performance objective with consequences. Either the boat floats, or they get wet. Megan Zirbel, Middle School STEAM Coordinator, said this about the challenge, “This project allows for students to capitalize on their strengths while learning important skills.  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 are fully engaged during the design process because they know that their end product will be put to the ultimate test. They work together to develop a theme for their boat and their creativity is on full display. They create animal themed concepts such as sharks and ducks or even movie and tv-themed boats honoring celebrities. Many students exhibited good insight as they reflected on the experience. “It was very fun and a good way to get to work together with your classmates and create your own designs,” wrote Gabby Biehn, 7th grader at Wheatland. 8th grader Kaci Peters said it was, “A challenge that will make you think and have a problem to solve.” Brooklyn Severson, 7th grader made the following connection, “It was a really fun way to study the properties of waves and water.” Finally, 8th grader Zack Tracy described it this way, “It was a fun, team building exercise that 4 of the 5 people will love and the remaining one may get wet.”

Kandi Horton, Middle School PATHS teacher and creator of the concept said, “I love working with our team of teachers. When I brought this STEAM challenge to our Middle School in 2019, all the teachers jumped in to work with students and create a great project.  Mrs. Zirbel and I prepared and planned to make sure it was a success.” Mrs. Zirbel and Mrs. Horton are already planning for the 2022 challenge, “Next year we plan to have awards for boat themes along with walkout songs to be played as each group is introduced. This is true STEAM learning – researching, designing, and improving and it is great that students and teachers get to do it together.” 

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