Thank you Isabella and Jackson Weppler of Ursa for providing this fun activity! Isabella is in fifth grade at Unity Middle School and Jackson is in fourth grade at Unity Elementary School.
The tin foil boat challenge asks kids to think outside the box and build a unique boat that will float and hold 100 pennies. This two-part experiment can be done with items you already have around your home. To set up, give kids a sheet of tin foil and present them with other materials that will help them build a stable boat. Some supplies that may be useful include wooden craft sticks, straws, pipe cleaners, tape and glue. Next, you’ll fill a large sink or a clear storage tote with water. If weather allows, this activity is best outdoors!
• Tin foil (6x6” sheets)
• 100 Pennies per child
• Drinking Straw
• Construction Paper
• Bowl or plastic container
Before you begin the challenge:
Ask the kiddos what they know about boats. What are they made of? Wood? Metal? Ask why some things float while others sink. This discussion is meant to get them thinking about how to design a boat that will float the most mass without sinking. Let them brainstorm ideas for the design.
Begin Building and designing:
Next, present their supplies and let them build a boat that floats. Their second challenge is to build a boat that can hold 100 pennies. Allow children five minutes building time then one at a time, allow them to place their boat in the water to see if it floats. Ask them if there are ways they can improve their design. Allow them to make changes for another 10 to 15 minutes.
Add cargo to the boat in water:
After each individual successfully creates a boat, gather them around the water. Have one boat at a time enter the water and get out the pennies. Then have the kid add pennies one at a time until all the pennies are on the boat or the boat begins to sink but is not submerged. Remove the pennies from the water and place the next boat in, repeating until every one has succeeded. Notes: 1. Have the person who created the boat begin adding pennies to their boat while another person counts the number of pennies as they are added to the boat. 2. Try different ways to distribute the weight of the pennies on your boat so you can carry the maximum number. 3. Be sure to dry the pennies before you begin adding them as cargo to the next boat because water weight will effect the results.
Take it a step further:
• Ask the students why they believe one boat could hold more pennies than another could. Their responses will most likely be concerned with (a) the method they were added to the boat (dropped on gently placed) or (b) the boat that performed the best had a larger surface area.
• Take this opportunity to teach the kids about the buoyant force of their boat and why an object floats or sinks. Use the example of a steel ship that floats compared to a steel bolt that quickly sinks to the bottom of a bucket of water. Although it is the same material, the answer lies in the density of the object compared to the density of water. The greater the surface area of the object being placed in the water, the more buoyant force it has being applied to it to help it float.
• Invite some friends online to nominate and challenge each other in this experiment. See which one can create the boat that will carry the greatest amount of cargo!
Arts Quincy is America’s First Arts Council and depends on the generosity of donors like you! If you’d like to support our mission to bring arts access to the community for as little as $5/month, please visit artsquincy.org/support-us. View past STEAM activities at artsquincy.org/blog.