In this St. Patrick’s Day STEM activity, kids will build their own boat to transfer Leprechaun Gold across the bay. The challenge is to design the boat to carry as much gold as possible.
Hands-on activities are a fantastic way to turn a boring-science-lesson frown upside down, inspiring kids to think and be creative. And there is nothing like a good challenge to bring energy and enthusiasm to the table (or a bathtub!).
In this St. Patrick’s Day-themed challenge, we incorporate Leprechaun gold into the topics of ship engineering, gravity, and the science of buoyancy. Using just the items that can easily be found in most homes and with very little prep, you can help your kids discover new ideas, learn about the world around them, and of course, exercise their brains. Because we all know that the brain is like a muscle and is improved by use.
A good place to start with any challenge is to present your kids with the problem: What boat design will help Leprechauns to transfer as much gold as possible across the bay?
Ask your little engineers for ideas. What shape, materials, and techniques can they use? What do they already know about boats? About floating? Have they done similar projects in the past and learned something that can be used today?
Encourage your kids to test their designs, identify problems, and keep improving until the problem is solved. If their boat capsizes, discuss why. Was the gold unevenly distributed? Was there too much gold for the design? If yes, what can be improved? Was the boat leaking? Was there ‘bad weather’ (kid-created big waves)?
Let’s get started!
St. Patrick’s Day Challenge
What you need:
Bathtub, sink, or large container
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What to do
- My kids decided to test two shapes: a triangle and a square. We first tried to tape the straws into the desired shapes. Through trial and error, we learned that the tape doesn’t stay sticky for long in the water, and the glue just takes too long to adhere. But there is a really cool solution to the problem. Just cut about an inch-long piece of the straw, fold it in half and insert each end into two straws to hold them together. Look at the image below if this doesn’t make sense.
Keep going until you get the desired shape.
2. Use foil to cover your frame. Be careful to fold the foil over the edges, so that your boat doesn’t leak.
- Fill your container or bathtub with water, launch your boat, and add gold into it. How many pieces of gold can you add to your boat? We kept losing count 🙂
- Repeat with the other shapes.
- We decided to take it a step further and test one more design (let’s call it design #3). This one is more of a traditional boat with a v-shaped haul. We made a diamond shape from two straws and added the third straw to the other two in a v-shape.
- We found out that all our designs were successful in holding large amounts of gold. However, the ultimate test was to get each boat with all that gold all the way across the tub.
In our experiment, a v-haul boat greatly outperformed flat-shaped haul boats. It was more stable and more reliable (did well every time). Unfortunately, if the gold was taken out of it, then a v-haul boat was less stable. And not only tended to lean to one side, but even occasionally took on water.
- Did you enjoy our St. Patrick’s Day challenge? The final step of each successful investigation is to talk about the results. This activity involves a lot of challenging concepts: buoyancy, density, displacement, hulls, and gravity. To help you and your kids seal the lesson, below is a nifty pdf with the lesson, crossword puzzle, and buoyancy word search.