Boat-Making for Buoyancy in 6th Grade

Teachers can assess their students’ understanding of topics in many ways, but using hands-on experiences that physically demonstrate new learning is a surefire method pf making school more exciting—during a pandemic or not!
Following the 6th grade’s recent integrated study of density in science, in concert with a unit on decimals in math, science teacher Peg Zerega wanted her students to wrap their minds around the concept of buoyancy, buoyant force (the push upward on the surface of an object by the fluid below/around it) and the impact of this force on gravitational mass to demonstrate the intricate balance between buoyant force and the force of gravity measured by density.
Zerega devised a lab consisting of materials that in-class students could use and remote learners could easily find or pick up to ensure a consistent learning experience for all. With welcome support from Intermediate and Middle School STEM and Coding teacher Sylvia Glassco, all students had aluminum foil, clay, tape, craft sticks and a plastic bin to tackle an assignment that challenged them to:
  • design and build a custom boat
  • test their boat for load versus the mass of the boat
  • modify their design and retest
  • analyze the data they captured
The range of designs students produced was staggering, with many capable of carrying loads in excess of 600 grams (more than 21 ounces)!
While Zerega has used a boat-designing lab as part this annual study in the past, pandemic restrictions gave her the opportunity to iterate on a theme and approach this project in an entirely new manner.
In addition to being grateful for Glassco’s support in the classroom, Zerega was proud of her students learning remotely. “Because they didn't have any weights with which to measure their boat loads, they used things they had at home, such as coins, Fruit Loops and dry rice. Very impressive and truly Parker!”

Click here for photos and share in a sample of one student′s work below.
Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.