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Will it float? Santa Rosa student boat-builders hope so

  • Comstock Middle School student Mario Vazquez checks out the paddle he just made as his team builds a boat during their 'Make" class for upcoming 'Trashtastic Boatacular" trash boat race , at CMS in Santa Rosa on Monday April 22, 2013. (Scott Manchester/The Press Democrat)

After the calculation of how much weight the handmade pontoon-style boat would bear, Oscar Meisse suggested installing a plank between the two rows of floatation barrels — because any seafaring vessel really ought to have a snack bar.

"To hold the chips and stuff," the Comstock Middle School seventh-grader said, measuring the width of the plank that he and his shipmates envision holding chips and drinks.

Meisse and three classmates are students in the school's new "make" class and lead players developing a boat for the upcoming "Trashtastic Boatacular" paddle competition at Nagasawa Community Park in Santa Rosa next month.

Designing, building and eventually paddling across a lake is the biggest project yet undertaken by the first-year class under the tutelage of teacher Dawn Thomas. In addition to overseeing Comstock's make elective, Thomas is crafting boats with her art students at Santa Rosa Middle School.

In the style of the far-ranging curriculum of the make class, Thomas ushered her students outside and pointed to piles of potential boat-making materials: barrels, 2x4s, plywood sheets and cardboard boxes.

"We showed them everything: This is what you can build with," she said. "What can you make?"

That non-traditional way to address more traditional lessons in science, math and engineering is what excites some educators about the idea of giving students a problem along with multiple modes and tools to attack it.

Building a good looking boat is one thing, but building a boat that four seventh-graders can successfully paddle across a body of water is sure to promote critical thinking, Thomas said.

"I make it their problem," Comstock's make class volunteer Bob van de Walle said. "Then I make sure they have different ways of making estimates or doing the math."

Meisse and teammate Mario Vazquez computed the total weight of their team then calculated how much weight could be supported by two plastic, 55-gallon olive barrels, sawed in half.


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