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Applied math STEM students float their boats

By PSNS & IMF Public Affairs | Jan. 10, 2020


Splashing water, excited cheers and exuberant squeals echoed throughout the indoor pool area at the Bremerton, Washington YMCA on Jan. 8, as eighth-grade Science, Technology, Engineering and Math students from Mountain View Middle School raced their self-constructed cardboard boats in the school’s inaugural cardboard boat competition.

Twenty students in the school’s applied math course worked in teams comprised of their classmates to construct functional vessels made entirely of cardboard and duct tape. Boats were required to be no more than five feet long and hold up to two passengers. Scoring was based on the boat’s ability to stay afloat during three passes across the width of the pool.

“Our design came from the idea of D-Day boats since they really had to do their job of not sinking,” said Brayden Gucene-Staatz, 13, who piloted the winning boat. “We reinforced the sides with triangle pieces inside so it wouldn’t bend in the middle when I started paddling.”

His teammates Konnor Platt, Ben Beecham and Sean Treadwell worked on their design for approximately three weeks prior to its sail across the pool. The students were so dedicated to their project that they designated Beecham as their lead engineer and spent time outside of the classroom designing their cardboard craft.

“We want to show the kids that math is applicable to the real world and can also be fun,” explained Corrine Beach, PSNS & IMF STEM Coordinator and NAVSEA student engagement lead. “It’s about helping them understand the engineering process - that it’s okay to fail. It encourages them to learn, continue modifying their ideas and make adjustments based on outcomes.”

PSNS & IMF began supporting STEM in 2008 and earned Navy-wide recognition for its educational STEM outreach program in 2016. By partnering with Naval Undersea Warfare Division Keyport, Puget Sound Navy Museum and U.S. Naval Undersea Museum, the shipyard’s 126 mentors have reached more than 5,000 local students in 46 schools across seven participating school districts.

“My favorite thing has always been seeing the lightbulb of understanding illuminate behind a child’s eyes and I don’t think that will ever change,” said Stephen Mastel, PSNS & IMF STEM outreach coordinator, who provided support from the water as the children navigated their boats. “I have met a lot of people, here in the shipyard and in the community as a result of STEM-event coordination that I would not have encountered otherwise.”

There were seven boats in total and each was decorated to reflect the personalities of their budding-engineer creators. Geometry principles were the primary driver of the exercise and students had to scale drawings, create designs and work together to engineer their boats.

“It was fun and I’d do it again,” said Platt. “I’m glad to be doing something outside of school and my team helped me learn.”

While students competed against each other for bragging rights, there was a sense of comradery as a result of the shared experience. Brian Seelye, applied math and robotics teacher at Mountain View Middle School, gathered the children after the race to enjoy a pizza party to celebrate their accomplishments.

“The kids really put a lot of effort into their boats,” shared Seelye. “It’s so beneficial for them to experience geometry in a fun and interesting way. I think they will remember this experience.”

The day event wasn’t entirely about math and science though.

“Confidence building and enjoying school is one of our goals,” said Beach. “We saw students, who have historically been hesitant to participate in group activities engage, contribute and be more social while working on their boats. It’s encouraging to see that.”

The next race is slated for Feb. 20 at the Olympic High School pool from 10-11:30 a.m.