Building engineers: GRC students make boats for races

Published 11:07 am Friday, May 26, 2017

Engineering students from George Rogers Clark High School ended the school year with a boat race at College Park’s pool. In a twist, though, their boats were made of only cardboard and duct tape.

The class, taught by Maria Richards, has spent the entire year learning the fundamentals of engineering as part of Project Lead the Way.

The program offers project-based classes for students with specific interests, such as engineering, to learn through advanced  courses that may even earn them college credit.

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“There’s still tests and quizzes and everything else, but the projects are included to enhance learning,” Richards said.

She said the boat race was selected as the final project because it was a fun way to put what students had learned about research notes and documentation to the test while doing something fun to bring in the summer.

 Students were allowed to design their boats however they wanted, but there were regulations they needed to maintain, Richards said.

“There was a maximum thickness for the cardboard, no sealing air into the boat and there was a limit to the layers of duct tape they could put on,” Richards said.

The class was broken into teams of students who had worked together throughout the year. Richards said she had made teams based on how well the individual members had worked together on projects during the class.

Students only had two days of class time to work on their boats, though Richards said that some students found extra time over the weekend to meet and perfect their designs. The class started by making miniature models, then used those models to design and build the actual boats, which had to be big enough to hold one person.

“It was a good way to understand scale factors,” Richards said. “When you scale up from the model you have to account for weight that will be added to the finished product.”

Once the boats were completed the teams convened at College Park to go head-to-head against one another. Some boats carried their team’s members across the lap pool and back, others were less seaworthy. Either way, Richards said the project was a success.

“It’s OK if the boats sink because then we’re able to look back and find out why they sank, and what we could have done to better brace them,” she said.

Richards has been teaching the engineering program for two years now. It includes the beginner class to learn about the fundamentals of engineering, as well as two advanced classes for those who are interested in one day earning an engineering degree.