Students learn physics behind sailing in cardboard

October 15, 2017
The Republic

Columbus Signature Academy — New Tech High School students can say the best way to learn about physics is through trial and error.

Nearly 100 students got a chance to test physics principles by designing boats out of cardboard, duct tape and a plastic liner and testing them out in the Northside Middle School swimming pool on Oct. 4.

And although it’s an educational assignment and the testing of the boats is graded, it’s also meant to be fun, said CSA — New Tech physics teacher Gail Nowels, who has worked on the project each year for the last 26 years.

The boats, which had to be designed to transport at least one person, also were required to attempt to successfully maneuver a swimming pool course.

Each boat was created by a minimum of a two-member team over several weeks at home, Nowels said.

Building the boats is designed to help students learn about buoyancy, pressure, gravity and weight, she said.

“It’s a test, they’re being evaluated, but it’s also a celebration,” Nowels said of the students’ work.

Students used oars to get around the pool obstacle course.

Hannah Baker, a junior at CSA — New Tech, teamed with classmate Francesca Jimenez to create a boat based on a theme from the Disney movie “Moana.”

“Moana” didn’t last long, eventually beginning to sink.

Part of the challenge was teams could not test the boats prior to the Oct. 4 swimming pool event, Baker said. She added that she believed the way their boat was constructed led it to sink.

“It wasn’t as successful as we thought it would be,” she said, and gave some advice to future contestants. “Don’t go above and beyond because you’ll end up sinking like we did.”

Other participants, such as sophomore Stacy Kramer and junior John Lusk, fared much better in the swimming pool. The pair designed their boat, which was painted red, to look like a shark.

Kramer and Lusk used two separate pieces of cardboard for the frame, along with cardboard tubes on each side. The construction took about three weekends, they said.

Lusk questioned the durability of the pair’s boat after noticing holes in a few areas once it was taken out of the water.

“It’s not nearly as bad as I anticipated,” Lusk said.

Still, he said it was a good learning experience for him, saying teams had to calculate water lines to see how far their boats would sink without putting their boats in the water.

Noah Christian, a junior who estimated he worked 10 hours on his boat with team member Gabe Kleinhenz in his family’s garage, also said he took away a valuable lesson in physics from his experience, as well.

Christian added that different scientific properties need to be taken into consideration when creating a successful boat.

“Simplicity is not everything, sometimes you need to have something that might look weird,” Christian said.

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