"Sailing with Cents"

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SWBAT design and build a boat to hold as many pennies as possible before sinking.

Big Idea

Students use the engineering design process to create a boat to hold the most pennies.

Setting the Stage

Next Generation Science Standards

K-2-ETS1-2 addresses “develop a simple sketch, drawing, or physical model to illustrate how the shape of an object helps it function as needed to solve a given problem.” In this lesson the students must design a boat using a restricted amount of aluminum foil.  They must construct a boat that holds the most pennies without sinking. This lesson is important because it teaches the students about the importance of developing a model to solve a problem.  Also, students create a boat that fights against two forces (buoyancy pushing the boat towards the surface and gravity trying to pull the aluminum foil and pennies downward). The boat continues to float as long as the force of buoyancy is greater than the force of gravity so the students attempt to build a strong boat because they do not want it to sink quickly.

Science and Engineering Practice

SP 2 addresses developing and using models. In this lesson, the students collaborate in pairs to create a boat made out of aluminum foil. The challenge is for the partners to create a boat that holds the most pennies.

Prior Knowledge:

Students have studied force. They understand force is a push or pull. Also, they know that there are three kinds of force: wind, magnetism, and gravity.

Junior Scientists:

In my class, my students are called Junior Scientists. They wear lab jackets they created early in the school year to be worn during experiments. I call them junior scientists to encourage them to major in Science and Math related careers. I want them to develop a love for Science and Math. Also, we sing "It Is Science Time" or "I Got A Feeling Song" before each lesson.



10 minutes

At their desks, students sing a song.  This song motivates and engages my Junior Scientists at the beginning of each science lesson. During science lessons, I call my students scientists to empower students and make them dreamers and doers.

“I Can” statement

One student is called to read the “I Can” statement for the day. Using an over-sized microphone, a scientist says, "I can develop a sail boat that holds pennies.” Reciting the “I Can” statement motivates the students to engage in the investigation and it allows the students to take ownership of the lesson.


I play a video about gravity. The video helps my visual and auditory learners. It helps my students learn the scientific content.  After observing the video, the students discuss how gravity affects people and objects.  I also make sure students understand gravity is a type of force that pulls things toward the center of the Earth.


25 minutes

While students sit at their desks, they are informed they are going to complete the "Sailing with Cents" investigation.  The group rules are discussed.

Students are paired with a partner, and they are provided their engineering design lab sheet. Students are instructed that they are going to work with a partner to design a boat made from aluminum foil. Students are given a 5x6 sheet of foil to create the boat and 10 pennies.  They are asked to observe and ask questions about the foil and pennies. Then they are asked to imagine creating a boat out of the foil that can hold the most pennies.  Partners are encouraged to sketch their boat on the lab sheet.

Students are encouraged to be creative when building the boats because they do not want the boats to sink. Encouraging the students to be creative also makes the experiment competitive because students strive to build a boat that holds the most pennies. After the students construct the boats, they place them in water. One student starts adding pennies, while the other student counts the number of pennies that are added.

Students are encouraged to be creative in how they place the pennies on the boat (in the middle, on one-side, dropping lightly or etc.) because placement can also determine how quickly the boat sinks. Students continue to add pennies until the boat sinks.

Students return to their desks and groups present their creation.  After the groups present, students share advice to their peers such as: what could be improved?; what could be done differently?; what did you like about the group's design?

Once each group shares, groups are informed that they can return back to their area to make improvements.

Students are then called back to the carpet to share their final creations. 

At the end of the lesson, I collect student lab sheets to make sure that they followed the steps such as: ask questions, sketch and draw their design, and make improvements (if necessary).

When the investigation is completed, I pose the following questions: How effective was your model? How do you know? My model was very effective because it held a large number of pennies before it sank. What could be done to make your model more effective? (Answers will vary.  Example of responses: We could have folded the foil differently.  We could have put the pennies in slower).

Sailing with Cents-Student Work-Lab Sheet

Boat picture



10 minutes

Once the investigation is completed, students complete an assessment. Students create a “One Minute Paper.” Students take one minute to describe the most meaningful thing they learned from the investigation. I take up the papers so I can evaluate what the students wrote. The assessment helps guide my discussion with the students for the next lesson. 1 Minute Exit Ticket-Student Work

After I take up the exit ticket, I explain to students what happen in the investigation.  Some boats were more successful because of the shape of the boat or penny placement. I permit each group to discuss how they shape they boat and how they place the pennies.  This allows students to hear others solutions.