One of the advantages of working with children is that they come from homes where there are plenty of spare materials laying around, which can easily be used for another purpose with an injection of a little imagination, creativity, and design thinking.

This STEM-based activity allows pupils to utilise a random set of resources, working collaboratively or alone, to complete a task and it is possible to involve each element of the STEM acronym for this activity: Science (the physics of how boats float); Technology (using technology to research how boats float and research the materials being used); Engineering (the engineering requirements that ensure a boat floats, and will not sink); Mathematics (ratios, measuring length or mass).

This task is:

Design a boat that floats, and propels itself in the water

The challenge can be differentiated for students of different ages, with increasing levels of complexity added into the task to fit the cohort. For example, for young children simply providing household cardboard, straws and tape may be enough, but as pupils get older the opportunity to apply scientific, mathematical and technological concepts can be applied, depending on the resources available. It is also advisable to link to your local curriculum requirements as well. The challenge could also be developed so that students need to carry a specified item/s on their boat, without the item getting wet. For example, you may use a Lego character or even a heavy weight (for example, 100 grams)

For the project to be a success, it is broken up into 6 distinct phases: Define; Research & Development; Design; Prototype; Refine; Build.

Materials & Resources

This is dependent on the outcomes you seek, and the age and development of the students you are working with. Egg boxes, straws, corks, paper, tape, cardboard tubes, etc are some of the basics (see this image for further inspiration), but more advanced stages may require balsa wood, glue, fabric (for sails), or engines for model boats! There is a lot of flexibility for this project, so you may add further items which are freely available to you and your students. You could even go to the local park to collect natural items (twigs/sticks etc), or the local beach to explore the waste that is washed up by the tide.

You will also need containers to hold water, so students can test their prototypes and final design. A paddling pool, water tank or sink will suffice.

  1. Define
  2. Research & Development
  3. Design
  4. Prototype
  5. Refine
  6. Build

This project could be completed within a focused week, or over a longer period of a whole term, depending on your local timetable requirements, but seeing the results and engagement completed within a focused week can be very rewarding for all concerned.

See the guidance for this series of STEM based lessons by choosing the lessons at the top of this page, and we hope that this proves a great teaching and learning process for all your students. Please let us know how it goes 🙂

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