As the four seventh-graders approached the last leg of the race, Camryn Woodley’s paddle slipped into the pool at Firestone High School. Teammate Armon Cook snatched it out of the water and frantically smacked the water, laughing the entire time.
Another 5 feet and the four students from Akron’s National Inventors Hall of Fame School for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) jumped ship and learned a valuable lesson about buoyancy and teamwork.
“Four people don’t work in a boat made out of cardboard,” Woodley said as her teammates giggled behind her.
The students made up one of 39 teams that constructed cardboard vessels for the seventh annual boat race, part of a pre-engineering program led by the district’s STEM schools.
The teams built their ships together — and some sank them together.
“Well, Max got too heavy,” said Cook, pointing a dripping-wet arm at his teammate after the team emerged on dry land.
“I could feel the cardboard rising up,” Max Davis recalled. “We almost made it.”
The two boys and two girls huddled together as their teacher, Ed Garcia, snapped a photograph.
“It really ties in to what we teach at our school, which is teamwork and collaboration,” Garcia said.
The engineering teacher explained that the makeshift boats are limited only by ingenuity and, of course, buoyancy.
“The beauty of this is they had the same background, the same material,” said Dan Spak, project leader for STEM events.
Spak pointed to a row of oddly shaped, taped and decorated boats.
“This is their answer to the challenge of building a boat,” he said.
The race pitted middle school students, high school students, principals and even Akron education board members against each other in a timed race from one corner of the swimming pool to the next. Middle school students came from Litchfield, Miller South, Roswell Kent, Buchtel, STEM Middle and Jennings. High school participants came from Firestone and the STEM high school.
Each team was given one roll of duct tape, 8 ounces of glue and a roll of plastic wrap if their heavy cardboard box, which formerly shipped produce, came with holes. Additionally, juniors received 75 square feet of foil, 100 feet of window bead, one ball of twine and hot glue. Seniors, who did not race, enjoyed the view and ran the show.
The race is one of several annual events orchestrated by Akron’s STEM program, which includes robotics and bridge building-tournaments at the National Inventors Hall of Fame middle and high schools.
In the past seven years, Spak has taught students the concepts of buoyancy, center of balance and basic construction.
“We talked about the things that are critical to boat building. But their design is their own,” he said of the floating hodgepodges. Still, one thing always impresses him:
“I was amazed at how much the kids looked forward to it,” Spak said.
And some of the wet ones already are looking forward to it again.
“I think we should do it again next year,” Davis said as the seniors tossed his team’s boat onto a pile of discarded cardboard vessels outside. “Maybe we’ll do better.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or email@example.com.