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Sailboat Racer

What is the science behind making a boat sail? Invite students to design a sail shape that works best in a classroom experiment.

  • Grade 3
    Grade 4
    Grade 5
  • 60 to 90 Minutes
  • Directions

    1. What makes a sailboat move forward? How is the wind captured and why does that work? Ask students to look at photographs of sailing ships and discuss the design of the sail shapes they are viewing. Use Crayola Dry Erase Markers to draw sail shapes on a classroom white board.
    2. Provide Crayola® Pointed Scissors and various recycled materials for students to use in creating sails; have each enveloped in fabric. Try triangular, rounded and square shapes. Remind children that they need to balance the size of sail vs. size of boat’s base so the boat does not tip over when the wind fills the sail.
    3. Invite students to decorate sails using Crayola® Color Sticks™ or Colored Pencils. Suggest they run a bead of Crayola® No-Run School Glue down inside edge of sail and roll around a thin skewer (or chopstick) to create the mast. While the glue is drying, cut strips of duct tape and secure four corks together with the tape to form the boat’s hull (base).
    4. Provide each student (or group)with a cork base. Demonstrate how to poke the sail’s mast (skewer with sail) into the cork base.
    5. Next, students will test designs in a basin filled about half way with water. Suggest the use of a fan or hair dryer to generate some gales of wind. Encourage a discussion of why the sailboat does or does not balance in the water. What adaptations may need to be made in student designs?
    6. Provide time in the schedule for students (or groups) to demonstrate their models. Each group or individual should be prepared to share insight into how their sailboats were created and why specific design decisions were made. Students should also include any trials made that resulted in an adaptation to their models.
    7. Display student sailboats in the classroom to promote further discussion.
  • Standards

    LA: Read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, at the high end of the grade level text complexity band independently and proficiently.

    LA: Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade level topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.

    LA: Participate in shared research and writing projects.

    MATH: Understand that attributes belonging to a category of two-dimensional figures also belong to all subcategories of that category.

    SCI: Analyze data to determine the relationship between friction and the motion of objects.

    SCI: Plan and carry out investigations of how the change in motion and/or shape when objects touch or collide is related to the speed of the objects.

    VA: Select media, techniques, an processes; analyze what makes them effective or not effective in communicating ideas; and reflect upon the effectiveness of choices.

    VA: Intentionally take advantage of the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes to enhance communication of experiences and ideas.

  • Adaptations

    Possible classroom resources include: The Boat Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta; Learning to Sail: The Annapolis Sailing School Guide for All Ages by Di Goodman & Ian Brodie

    Students expand their experiment by adding additional skewers to the sail along the bottom of the sail or outer edge. Does this affect the boat's navigation? If so, explain how.

    Students work in small groups to brainstorm everyday expressions taken from nautical usage (such as "know the ropes", "cut and run", "toe the line", "square meal", "rummage sale"). What do these expressions mean to someone sailing? What do these expressions mean to a person in a non-sailing situation?

    Encourage students to think of expressions that are not related to sailing, and write an explanation of the meaning of each expression and provide an original illustration of the meaning. Display these on a classroom bulletin board.


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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