Finland STEM Boating Challenge

What a week back from spring break! It was go, go, go from the moment we returned. We received our eggs to hatch, students wrote a class book of poems to send off to Student Treasures to be published, we started a new unit in math on money, Thursday was poem in your pocket day, and we had boat building and a big boat race on Friday for STEM. There was a lot to be excited about but the STEM lessons were some of my favorites.

We kicked off the STEM lesson with a social studies connection. I wrote a small book about Finland (that you can get in my TpT store) that we read as a class. Students read about the capital Helsinki and the surrounding archipelago. One of the major islands in the archipelago, Suomenlinna, is a popular destination for tourists and Finns alike, reached by a quick ferry ride. This set the stage for our STEM activity.

Small book writing is a lot of work, but totally worth it!

Next up students watched a BrainPop Jr. video called, Sink or Float. Reviewing this science concept came in handy when students were released to start designing their own boats.

Students were itching to get their hands on materials set out to build their boats. In teams of two and three they talked, planned and then finally got the goods to start building.


Now, I had my own visions of what students might create and how they would use the different materials. Let’s just say once again student creativity surprised me.

Their challenge was to build a wind powered boat that could sail from Helsinki to Suomenlinna. A tucker tote filled it with water served as Helsinki Bay, and I marked one side Helsinki and the other Suomenlinna. To add to the challenge, the boats needed to hold 10 pennies as well.

Eager to get boats in the water, students worked together to make their creations come to life. The first ship to sail unfortunately sunk right to the bottom of the tub, shipwreck! It was a great moment to shine a light on the benefits of failure. We cheered and thanked the team for their failure so we could all learn what not to do. The team reflected on why the shipwreck might have happened and shared with the class what they would NOT do in their second round of design and building.

The next day at morning meeting my favorite comment about the whole experience came from a student in the first failing team, “My favorite part was when we failed, failing was fun!” Score, a teachable moment that took a negative and made it positive! As a class we had a conversation about how failure can be a good thing when we learn from it and make changes to be successful in the future. Doesn’t matter if it is in STEAM, math or anything else, we can all learn from our failures.

Later in the week students had a bit more time to redesign, make changes or build a new boat to sail in our race Friday. One thing I figured out pretty quick when we tested boats the first time, was I was going to need a bigger tub! I switched out the regular tub and brought in a longer one that is meant to be stored under a bed. This was a much better length for our race.

Students had three chances to use wind power to race their boat from Helsinki to Suomenlinna. We had a few shipwrecks and some teamwork breakthroughs. It was a great experience cheering each team on.

In the end we had two different types of “winners”. The first was the fastest boat that came in at 6 seconds. Unfortunately, that boat shipwrecked in their second sailing and so we determined that while fast, the boat wasn’t very seaworthy. For the second winners, we had a more seaworthy boat that lasted all three race rounds and came in at 7 seconds for two of them. It was a great to look at “winning” from a few different perspectives.

Overall, this STEM lesson was another one of my favorites. Besides the fact that students were totally engaged, it was another chance to make a social studies and real world connection. My hope is that through cross curriculum work, and hands on learning, students will retain information better and longer.

You can grab both my Finland small book and this STEM lesson at my TpT store. Love the social studies and STEM connection? You can get pick up my other small books and STEM lessons in my store as well.




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