Friday, March 1, 2024
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Fabulous Boats STEM Challenge (It’s Our Favorite!)


If you need a highly engaging STEM activity I have the PERFECT one! Students adore this challenge to build a bloat!

So, here’s the truth about the Boat Challenge. One day I walked into the STEM Lab and decided that my plans for third grade were not going to work and I needed to throw something different together quickly.   Looking around I spied my blue dish pans and decided we could build boats. (Yeah, I know that is the unlikeliest decision ever, but it worked!)   Then I started pulling junk out of the cabinets. Seriously.

STEM Activity Building a boat! Students use a budget to “purchase” materials and must build a weight-bearing boat. Highly engaging and a student- favorite activity.

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Junk, Seriously!

I really did not have a plan. I just started pulling things out of the cabinets- waxed paper, foam sheets, plastic wrap, cups, straws, and anything else I thought kids would use.   The first class came and we had a grand time, but there were problems.

  • My instructions were for the kids to plan their boat and come to the supply table and collect only what they would need from the vast array of stuff I had on the table.
  • Some groups did exactly what I expected. Some groups came and got some of everything.
  • I mean, if you get all the junk your boat will be better, right?

So, I had to rethink this one. (Aren’t you glad I test my STEM Challenges?)

Let’s Try a Budget!

I decided to put a price on all the materials and have the students “buy” the items. And they had a budget!

In the photo, you can see a group filling in their cost sheets. They are using the pricing list I created and then listing the things they will need. Since these were third graders I allowed the use of calculators.   As soon as the cost sheet was ready they went shopping at STEM Mart! They were so serious about this. I loaded them down with a tray of all the items and they got busy building a boat.

STEM Project Building a boat! Students use a budget to “purchase” materials and must build a weight-bearing boat. Highly engaging and a student- favorite activity.

Cups, Oh My!

STEM Challenge Building a boat! Students use a budget to “purchase” materials and must build a weight-bearing boat. Highly engaging and a student- favorite activity.

For some reason, students truly believed foam cups would make a great boat.

I mean, just look at those fabulous boats. Unfortunately, they will not stand up in the water. Even when we started adding weight to the boats they would tip over quickly. Students were so disappointed by this, but they quickly redesigned and took off to STEM Mart again -if they had money left over. (By the way, I have repeated this challenge many times and the best day ever was when we used fake money. Oh. My. Goodness. They loved that!)

Better Boats

Just about anything with a flat bottom will work great – as long as they have not made a tiny hole in the materials somewhere. We added pennies until the boats began to take on water.

Students loved to use plastic wrap for the bottoms of the boats and straws, too. They also learned that straws will take on water and make the boat sink a little.

Many of the foil boats began to resemble baked potatoes. But, here’s a secret: foil boats work the best. Foil has magical flexibility when taking on the weight of the pennies dropped inside.

STEM Project Building a boat! Students use a budget to “purchase” materials and must build a weight-bearing boat. Highly engaging and a student- favorite activity.

This challenge is a best-seller for many reasons!

STEM Challenge Building a boat! Students use a budget to “purchase” materials and must build a weight-bearing boat. Highly engaging and a student- favorite activity.
STEM Challenge Building a boat! Students use a budget to “purchase” materials and must build a weight-bearing boat. Highly engaging and a student- favorite activity.
  • Students must think and re-think and they solve problems constantly as they work.
  • Using the budgeting feature is great fun for them and they are so serious about it. I love hearing them dicker over the prices and how many things they need.
  • They learn by doing! Those cup boats flip over and they go back to their plans and use this learned information and try again.
  • Kids dearly love the whole testing event of this challenge. They are so excited to see if the boats will float.
  • Adding weights to the boat to try to sink it is so much fun. I love listening to the kids count the pennies and then cheer when they get to 100. “It’s up to a whole dollar!” they will say.

One more thing! See that boat in the photo above. It looks like a Viking boat. Anyway, when that team came to STEM Mart to buy their materials they listed SEVEN cups on their cost sheet. Seven Cups! I raised an eyebrow and they quickly assured me that they had a plan. Look closely! Do you see how they cut the cups into slivers and then used those rounded slivers as the backbone of their boat? Genius! #IloveSTEM

I promise, your students will LOVE this challenge! II have tried it wait grades 1-5 (in different formats) and they all love it and can’t wait to try to float their boats!

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STEM Activity Building a boat! Students use a budget to “purchase” materials and must build a weight-bearing boat. Highly engaging and a student- favorite activity.

Materials for this challenge!

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