Blogger Amy Koester

Boat Race Science: A School-Age STEM Program

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Photo by Amy Koester.

Have you ever noticed how excited kids get when library programs involve materials they wouldn’t normally think would be in the library? Adding eggs to a program is one example, and another is having a big tub of water, splash risk and all. That’s exactly what kids saw last month when they came into the program room for Boat Race Science, the latest in our series of STEM/STEAM programs for school-age kids. Here’s what we did (and I highly recommend you consider doing it, too):

First, we talked about the science. When it comes to boat races, there are few key science concepts involved. My preferred mode of sharing our science info is in a Prezi presentation; my Prezi for Boat Race Science is linked here. We talked about three main concepts using resources shared in the Prezi. First was buoyancy, and I showed a short animated video to demonstrate the basic principles associated with boats and buoyancy. Next we discussed lift using some images and facts from How Stuff Works; I also used the analogy of a kite to help the children visualize how lift works. Lastly, we talked about aerodynamics–a must-cover topic when it comes to races.

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Photo by Amy Koester.

Next came the hands-on STEM work. Our goal for our boats was speed, not longevity, so the basic construction material for the boats was paper. I had instructions for origami boats (such as these) on the work tables as well as an assortment of papers, some tape, scissors, and things like straws, dowels, and different weights of paper for making masts and sails. Some of the younger children struggled a bit with the origami, but I was able to move about the room and provide assistance as needed. I also asked lots of different questions about the design decisions the kids were making: Why a tissue paper sail? Why that sail shape? Why that size? All my questions were in the interest of inspiring some scientific trial-and-error and deep thought.

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Photo by Amy Koester.

We ended by racing our boats. The goal for the race was to place the boat in the big plastic container of water, then propel it once up and back along the container by blowing through a straw to create the moving force. I had each child race one at a time. When I have programs that involve races and other seemingly competitive activities, I try very hard to organize our time so that kids test/race their creations one at a time; that way there is no talk of who wins and who loses. Instead, I’m able to time each boat individually and write down the results for everyone to see. This strategy allows us to focus more on trying to interpret the timing data–how does design affect time, etc.? Of course the child with the fastest time is excited, but by going one at a time even the children with less-quick boats have a chance to really enjoy the whole race process.

Everyone left with something in hand. Most of our boats went into the trash after their heats because of water damage (think: water on paper), so I gave kids the option of taking home a few more sheets of our square origami paper and a copy of the boat-folding instructions. I also set out a variety of library materials about boats and racing–both non-fiction and fiction–and many a boat racer took one home to continue engaging in our science concept of the day.

Have you offered any STEM programs for kids that risk getting everyone all wet? What sorts of activities do you do?

 

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