A small crowd gathers at the McCutcheon High School pool to cheer on several teams preparing to launch their boats in the annual Principles in Engineering class PVC Boat Race. Teams “Noah’s Ark,” “Ricky Bobby,” and “The Titanic” attempt to paddle their way across the pool in hopes of reaching the finish line first or before sinking.
Engineering/Technology teacher Zach McKeever says the project started with students learning about Archimedes Principle and buoyancy as it relates to complex shapes. The students research various boat hull types before narrowing down results and creating model boats. Later, they design a full-size boat framed with PVC pipe and wrapped in plastic.
The real test happens when their designs hit the water. Senior John Koellisch says his team used a design based on a kayak designed by professional race teams. “The first issue we had was the bottom of the boat was not wide enough to be stable,” explains John. “This caused balance issues and we tipped over multiple times.”
Junior Spencer Phillips says his team’s design was based on a canoe. “The boats with the flatter bottoms performed better than the ones shaped like a V,” says Spencer. “This project is a great way to get students excited about engineering because they have fun, learn more, and think creatively.”
“I learned during this project buoyancy is a major factor on a boat. A design that may seem like a good idea on paper, may not be such a great idea when you put it to the test in a real-world situation,” adds John.
After several qualifying heats, the “SS Chapo” wins. Team members proudly hoist above their heads a trophy, which is created, of course, with PVC pipe and plastic wrap.