Name of Activity Boat Building
Author Rachel Yu and Laura Nixon
Keywords boats, materials, float, water, weight, sinking, density, surface area, weight
Subject Non-LEGO
Grade Level K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Time 1 Hour Total
Brief Description The students build boats out of different materials and then float them in water and
place pennies on the boats until they sink.
Lesson Objectives: Determine what material and what shape of the boat will make the boat that holds the most pennies.
Materials Needed: Tin foil, paper, clay (NOT play dough), LEGO pieces, popsicle sticks, tape, pennies, water and basin.
Preparation and Set Up:  Discuss with your teacher how you will manage the testing. It can get a little messy with the water.
Necessary Background Relevant Vocabulary:
Surface Area
Procedure For the first graders, we gave each group a different material and had them build a boat out
of it. Then, after their first trial, they could choose what material they thought would work
best and make another boat.
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5 Responses to Tin Foil Boats

  1. Devyn Curley says:

    Katrina and I did this activity with 2nd graders, but just with tin foil. The focus was more on improving the structure over choice of material. The first tests held their attention, but because one of us had to help the students troubleshoot, only one of us could conduct the tests at a time. This caused a bottleneck at the testing step, causing many students to become bored with the activity. At the end we discussed what structures held the most weight and the misconceptions students had before the activity.

  2. Freddy and I did this as our first lesson with our fifth grade class. They enjoyed it and it got them excited about STOMP. I would recommend bringing a lot of tin foil if you do this activity, because usually by the time the kids were ready to redesign and test, their tin foil was ripping. Also, I would recommend having several testing stations to try to reduce the amount of time the kids were waiting around to test their boats.

  3. Devyn Curley says:

    Camille and I executed this lesson in Spring ’15 in Mrs. Murphy’s Argenziano 5th grade classroom as a warm up to our Structural Engineering via Architectural History curriculum. I learned from my previous lesson and had multiple testing stations for the students, but even with 3 stations for 20 students there was still a line. We had the students focus a lot on the design, and had them write if their boat was going to be long, deep, circular, etc, and draw if from different angles. This worked well to introduce the concept of detailed engineering design as it is a simple design to draw from different angles. It was Dr. Suess week so we read them a section of Green Eggs and Ham, where it reads “I will not eat them in a boat, I will not eat them with a goat,” and gave the project purpose based on that.

  4. Rohan and I just completed this activity with a fourth grade class. We based this activity around the Flintstones theme and are going to keep that as the thread for all our activities (since the topic is civil engineering). We had relatively bigger groups and so there were some internal conflicts but it allowed students to collaborate and understand how to incorporate the different ideas each team member had.
    One group was successful in their first attempt but decided to go back and make their model even stronger. They decided to add an extra layer to their base (and as most kids do, use more tape!) and this in fact ruined their boat and made it leak! So we discussed how to use restraint when using materials and analyzed what went wrong in their modifications. (They figured out that more tape is not always the solution!)
    What we plan on doing is continuing this activity next class by introducing a challenge wherein they have to re design their current boats to fit a new criteria. We are still formulating the challenge based on available resources, but we are going to ask them to add extra levels (a deck) to their boats while still aiming to balance as many pennies as possible.

  5. Lisa Fantini says:

    Declan and I did this activity with two fourth grade classrooms at East Somerville Community School. We introduced the activity to them by telling them a story about three friends (Abigail, Stan and their pet bunny Puff) who wanted to go sailing. While sailing, a giant storm hit them and their boat began to sink. All they had with them was aluminum foil, so the students had to make a tinfoil boat that would withstand a lot of weight without sinking.

    We introduced the engineering design process to them and focused on planning and testing in particular. We allowed for them to build and test only three different boats. In this way, they could improve their design after seeing what made it sink in the testing stage. We only used aluminum foil, pennies, and two bowls of water for this (we highly recommend using more than one bowl since testing takes a large amount of time).

    The kids had a great time testing their boats and were really excited to see how many pennies their boats could hold without sinking.

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