High School Science Class Builds Boats At PMM
March 4, 2011 – A new boatbuilding program is being used to teach physical science to a small group of high school students, thanks to collaboration between Searsport District High School and Penobscot Marine Museum. Even as they learn how to sharpen chisels, mix epoxy and run a bandsaw, seven sophomores, juniors and seniors are studying concepts such as vectors, drag and torque, with the help of a professional boatbuilder and educators from the school and the museum.
"It's an alternate path to meet core academic standards," says Michelle Andre, a physical science teacher at Searsport District High School. "Some students learn best through hands-on activities outside of a traditional classroom environment. The ones who requested to be in this program are taking it seriously, learning rapidly, and having a great time." Andre emphasized that the program is a science elective, not vocational training. "The students are not studying to become boatbuilders," she said. "But they are learning about boat design and terminology, and how to use hand tools. Some of those skills will almost certainly be useful to them in the future."
The project was conceived jointly by Kathleen Jenkins, an English teacher at the high school, and Betty Schopmeyer, the museum's education director. The school provided funding for the project in the form of a "Multiple Pathways" grant from the Nellie Mae Educational Foundation, and the museum offered work space in one of its buildings, along with tools and other support. Greg Rossel, a well-known boatbuilder and boatbuilding educator, agreed to lead the hands-on part of the project, while Michelle Andre designed the academic components to align it with Maine's standards for science education.
"There are some classroom elements to the program," says Andre. "We use the dynamics of a boat on the water to illustrate concepts such as center of gravity, center of buoyancy, drag, lift, and stability. For some of the students, it's the relevance to the hands-on component that makes the classroom lessons engaging." She added that future iterations of the project will address other academic subjects, including mathematics, history, and English language arts.