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Float a Boat

Introduce young students to principles of physics and design with this colorful boat making experiment. Have fun on the water!

  • Grade 2
    Grade 3
    Grade 4
  • 30 to 60 minutes
  • Directions

    1. Fill a large container with water and set it aside. Depending on the number of students, use a large sink, a tub, or even a child’s wading pool to create a class “lake.”
    2. Provide each student with a rectangular piece of white paper. Exact size does not matter, but one easy solution is to cut pieces of 8 ½” x 11 ½” sheets of paper in half and give one half sheet (8 ½” x 5 ½”) to each student.
    3. Using rulers, have them mark off the outer edges of the paper into equal sections. (About 1 ½” on all sides is good for an 8 ½” x 5 ½” piece of paper.) Then have them fold up all four edges to form the sides of the boat. Show them how to fold over triangular flaps at each corner.
    4. Have students unfold the paper and lay it on a flat surface. Invite them to cover both sides of the paper with a layer of thick, colorful Crayola® Crayon. (Be sure no one uses markers for any part of this activity!) The bottom of the boat can be a solid color since it will not show, but it must be very thickly applied. Encourage them to create colorful patterns and designs on all four sides of the boat, both inside and out, with more crayon. Be sure to apply an especially thick layer to the bottom of the interior. Some may wish to add a colorful sail.
    5. Once papers are entirely covered with crayon, invite students to refold their boats using tape to hold the triangular flaps together at each end.
    6. Ask at least one student who finishes ahead of the others to make another boat out of plain paper with no crayon or decorations.
    7. When the boats are finished, invite students to launch them on the class “lake.” Include the plain paper boat in the flotilla. Ask students to make predictions about how long they think the boats will stay afloat.
    8. Move on to other classroom activities for the rest of the day coming back to the lake just occasionally to make observations. At the end of the day (or the next day if the activity was done in the afternoon), have students gather around the lake and observe what has happened. Did some boats sink? Are some still afloat? What conclusions can students draw based on their observations? Encourage students to discuss the activity and write about it in their journals. Does anyone know what the word “repel” means? Ask someone to use the word in relation to the activity.
  • Standards

    LA: Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, including those that signal precise actions, emotions, or states of being and that are basic to a particular topic.

    LA: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade level topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

    LA: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

    SCI: Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

    SCI: Analyze data from tests of two objects designed to solve the same problem to compare the strengths and weaknesses of how each performs.

    VA: Students will investigate, plan and work through materials and ideas to make works of art and design.

    VA: Students will reflect on, share insights about, and refine works of art and design.

    VA: Creative thinking and art making skills transfer to many aspects of life.

  • Adaptations

    Older students who are studying Chinese cultural traditions might use Chinese dragon motifs in their designs especially if the activity is conducted during the Dragon Boat Festival.

    This can be a fascinating, thought provoking activity for special needs children as long as one-on-one help is provided when it comes to folding and forming the boats.

    Invite students to research topics of buoyancy and boat building. Why do some objects float while others sink?


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