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FHS students sail cardboard vessels in annual race

4/17/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Stephanie Kist

Senior Jamie Lavigne hands sophomore Michael Skerlong a marker.
Akron Public Schools Board of Education President Lisa Mansfield and member Dave Lombardi make it to the finish line.
Ninth-grade students, from left, Quinn Dong, David Herr, Jacob Bilich and Jacob Koehler are shown rowing as fast as they can during the Cardboard Canoe Races at Firestone High School.
Photos: Dale Dong
WEST AKRON — At Firestone High School (FHS) April 9, pre-engineering students of Dan Spak hoped they wouldn’t sink or swim during the ninth annual Cardboard Canoe Races held in the school’s Natatorium.

Armed only with cardboard, plastic wrap and duct tape, students from seven district schools participated by constructing 27 boats. Firestone seniors in Project Lead the Way coordinate the event, which features timed races in the pool among eighth-graders and between ninth- and 10th-graders.

According to Spak, the event is the essence of project-based, problem-based learning, and it allows the students to critically analyze an open-ended problem and develop their unique solution to it. Prior to building, teachers review the concepts of buoyancy, displacement and center of mass. Additionally, boat-building tips and canoe paddle usage is discussed.

The teams could choose how many students would row the boat, which meant they needed to consider added strength vs. added weight.

To add even more math to the project, the students also estimated displacement — or how far down in the water their boat would sit with the crew inside. This required them to make calculations involving the weight of the participants and size of the boat and draw on the boat with a marker where they estimated the water line would be.

“It takes them a little while to wrap their mind around displacement, but I want them to see engineering as the application of math and science,” Spak said. He added the students did “amazingly well” with this facet of the competition. 

Winners were named in multiple categories, including an adult category, which featured district personnel sailing boats constructed by senior Project Lead the Way students.

The fastest middle school team was the team of Taia Rahim, Eva Soucek, Nathon Mullins and Grace Julien, from the National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM Middle School. The fastest ninth/10th-grade team was FHS students Zach Taylor, Jacob Mansfield, Abigail Orosz and Leo Lombardi.

Jacob and Leo are the sons of Akron Public Schools Board of Education President Lisa Mansfield and member Dave Lombardi, respectively, and their team’s victory was sweeter, as they beat their parents by two seconds, Spak said.

The fastest adult team was comprised of FHS assistant principal Antonio Preston and teacher Rob Sveda.

In addition to the cardboard canoes, 11th-grade students were challenged to build tinfoil boats, a more daunting task, Spak said. The students used wood window bead, twine, hot glue, tinfoil and duct tape on their projects.

As none of the tinfoil vessels survived the voyage, a winner was not named in that category.

Spak first learned of the Cardboard Canoe concept from a teacher in Minnesota, who shared the idea with him when he was looking for a way to add more projects into his ninth-grade curriculum.

“They do not really know math and science until they have to apply it successfully to a problem,” he said, adding the event allows the students to “have fun, but everybody comes away a little smarter. Everybody has a different experience.”

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