Today saw the fruition of an ambitious project! The blue band went to Stow Lake to test the boats they built from cardboard and plastic. The beauty of this project is that even though both boats ended up as piles of card board slush, everyone came out of the experience feeling like they had done something great.
My goal as an educator isn’t to prepare the next generation of boat builders but rather to foster the skills that will help these kids turn their aspirations into reality. In this project we were breaking down and reflecting on the qualities of good teamwork and leadership.
We started this project with a couple of team building challenges. The blue band had to work together to crack the code of this matrix. They discovered that the missteps they made were important information. They had to work together to track and convey the proper order of steps to unlock the puzzle. In another team building challenge the students had to stand in a tight circle and pick up pieces of paper far out of their reach. They discovered that to be successful they had to physically counter balance each other and use their words to communicate.
Referencing these challenges the group built a rubric of qualities that makes up good team work. Here is the list they came up with:
- Communicate in a clear and kind way.
- Listen and snap ideas together.
- Care for each other when we make mistakes because they are important parts of learning.
- Appreciate other people’s strengths instead of focusing on what they aren’t doing.
- Be helpful and focused.
Because we were working in a new medium with a dangerous tool, we sat down with a cardboard master, our very own Willow. He gave the students techniques to cut cardboard safely and effectively with a box cutter. Thus prepared, the blue band was split into teams and got started sketching and modeling their ideas.
After a day of creating models the teams came together snap together their separate ideas. First they looked for similarities in their designs and then they figured out what other features they should include. This process of turning individual ideas into a collective vision is really difficult and requires a high level of communication, flexibility and good will. I was impressed by the way both teams built upon each other’s ideas
When the teams had settled on designs they got to work cutting and taping together their boats! A mantra for those easily distracted was, “How can I help?” For those who were trying on leadership roles, they practiced seeing people’s strengths and passions and finding jobs that leveraged those strengths.
Ronan and Isaac applied the laws of buoyancy that we’d been discovering in order to calculate how much weight their boats could safely carry. They calculated the volume of their boats and figured out the weight of the water it would displace. They predicted that both of the boats would be able to carry over a thousand pounds of weight. Theoretically, these boats could carry a couple of 9 and 10 year olds with no problem.
Their final step was to wrap their boats in plastic to protect the cardboard from turning to slush.
Despite the mathematical modeling that predicted the boats could carry thousands of pounds, everyone was dubious of these boat’s ability to actually float. Before leaving for Stow Lake almost everyone predicted disaster. The boat will flip over, the walls will cave in, they will sink!
Because the kids had envisioned all the ways that these boats would fail, the moment when Soleil and Sadie stepped into their boat for the first time was met with shrieks of delighted disbelief. As they pushed off into the lush green waters of Stow Lake the crowd of on lookers accumulating on the banks cheered.
The second boat was just as much a success.
As Gita and Lily glided out onto the lake passerby’s stopped to ask the kids left on the bank what the heck was going on. What kind of strange and amazing school is this that sends students out in homemade cardboard boats!
It was a beautiful day to paddle on the lake.
After 15 minutes or so of leisurely paddling both boats started to take on water from tears in the plastic. Sadie and Soleil were able to paddle back to the bank before they had taken on too much water.
Lily and Gita, however, got stuck in some trees and weren’t able to paddle back to shore. I had to make a rescue on my surfboard!
Whether they felt upset or exhilarated by their experiences in the sinking boats, the sailors and their teams met the challenge with bravery and compassion. Later, having changed into dry clothes, the band gathered over hot cocoa to appreciate each other for the contributions they made to this ambitious project. They reflected on the part they played in their group and ways they would like to grow as a team member. A toast to the blue band who met with challenges and didn’t lose sight of the most important thing: each other!