When making potentially dangerous or financial decisions, always employ and consult appropriate professionals. Comment on Volunteer to Pilot NGSS Test by Mary LordComment on Volunteer to Pilot NGSS Test by Mary MelnickComment on Digest This! In this activity, students learn about the engineering design process and the physical principles of buoyancy and displacement by working together to build a boat out of straws and plastic wrap that can hold 25 pennies for at least 10 seconds before sinking.
Ocean, Naval Architecture, all disciplines (design process, particularly planning; collaboration).
Recognize volume as an attribute of solid figures and understand concepts of volume measurement. Solve real-world and mathematical problems involving area, volume, and surface area of 2- and 3-dimensional objects. Engineering design: Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success. Optional : Disposable plastic or vinyl tablecloth or old newspaper to place underneath water container.
If desired, cover the surface on which the water-filled container will rest with plastic or vinyl tablecloth or several layers of recycled newspaper. For best results, place testing stations on the floor or stable table (a desk may not work well with students moving to and from the station). Put pennies or washers in a cup near each testing station.  There is no need for these to be out with the students in their groups.
Tape down yardstick or rulers (end to end) to use as general measuring guide for plastic wrap and tape dispensing.


To help students understand the objective of the challenge, give them some information about why things float.  Suppose you had one large and one small empty soda bottle, each with its cap on.  If you pushed them underwater, which would be harder to keep down? Why is this?  Well, both of the bottles will push water out of the way as you push them down. The first step of the process is to ASK:  How can we design a boat (using the materials given) that will displace a lot of water, or be “buoyant”?
Then students plan which one to BUILD or CREATE.  For this step, have them divide one piece of paper into fourths by folding it first in half lengthwise and then again in half width-wise.
Using their plan, students will obtain materials from the materials table and return to their workspace to create their design.
Students will then TEST their designs by first placing them in the water, and then adding one penny at a time, up to 25 pennies. It’s best to let students discover their own possible solutions to problems making their watercraft float or hold the pennies.
Take your design to the next level and see if  you can construct a watercraft that holds 50 pennies for at least 10 seconds. French windsurfer, explorer, and aquaculture vet Raphaela le Gouvello has crossed the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans on a specially designed sailboard that allowed her to sleep, eat, and send email. The Bridge, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s free, teacher-approved marine education resources, includes classroom activities on buoyancy and other standards-based lessons. Floaters and Sinkers, an activity to teach students about buoyancy developed by Duke University’s Center for Inquiry-Based Learning, expands on the concepts of volume, mass, and displacement found in this lesson.
The Smithsonian Institution’s On the Water maritime history exhibit includes devices invented to save lives during shipwrecks, including the life raft (photo, right) and lifeboat.


The Cub Scouts have a tradition of holding Raingutter Regattas, in which kids design, build, and race boats along gutters filled with water.
See the engineering that went into the 2013 America’s Cup racers in this New York Times video-graphic.
Fill plastic tote or bucket with several inches of water (no more than halfway).  Several totes or buckets could be used with larger groups if supervision is available. How will you make a boat that floats well enough to support a heavy load without sinking? When they unfold the paper, the creases from the folds will have created four rectangles.  Tell the students to draw one idea in each rectangle, and then choose the best one to create.
An airbag system provided by the European Space Agency helped guard the craft from capsizing, satellite navigation helped her head in the right direction across isolated stretches of water, and solar cells generated electricity. Since the bigger bottle displaces more water than the smaller one does, there is more force pushing it up.  Therefore, it floats better.
Next, place the pennies near each other but on one end of the hand (near the finger tips).  Finally, spread them out all over the palm.
Encourage them to discuss the differences and make changes to their weight distribution based on these.



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