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STEM project makes fifth-graders into boatwrights

Right now, it’s all about teamwork.

Come May 22, it will be all about trust.

That’s what fifth-grade students at Farmington View Elementary School are learning this spring while building an 11-foot skiff.by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTOS: CHASE ALLGOOD - Volunteer Tom Nelson helps Farmington View fifth-grader Julia Mas cut the bottom of the boat the students are building.

Add to that lessons in engineering, design, the basics of buoyancy, measuring and math, woodworking and power tool safety, and the eager fifth-graders have quite a project on their hands.

Enter Peter Crim, executive director of Wind & Oar Boat School, a nonprofit organization that teaches youngsters how to build boats.

Crim is leading the effort in the school’s engineering lab, where the students were recently getting ready to put the bottom on their boat.

On May 22, students will test the seaworthiness of their shiny new watercraft at Tualatin River Farm on Southwest Minter Bridge Road. Each of the 36 students in Ms. Aldrich’s class will have a chance to take a turn in the three-person boat.

“With 36 students, it is one of the more challenging classes we run,” Crim explained. “It’s the first time we’ve attempted more than about 12 students at a time, so devising a curriculum that accommodated these numbers and still gave everyone a chance to get their hands on tools and the boat was a stretch. I’m pleased with how it turned out though, as it demonstrates that a content rich, hands-on, STEM curriculum centered on boat building is possible.”by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Peter Crim, left, of Wind & Oar Boat School, mentors fifth-graders in building an 11-foot wooden skiff.

The project came about when Farmington View, one of the Hillsboro School District’s four STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) focus elementary schools, received a grant.

Farmington View STEM coordinator Janet Rabe learned about Crim’s Wind & Oar Boat School through the Portland Metro Area STEM Partnership.

Rabe said she chose to involve fifth-graders in the project because “we could tie it in to a lot of grade level goals and standards.”

In addition to the hands-on boat construction itself, students learn about designing and engineering a boat, testing out stability and buoyancy by building a model-sized boat of their own.

Rabe engaged the help of Tualatin Riverkeepers, Clean Water Services (River Rangers) and Jackson Bottom Wetlands to help tie in the boat building with lessons about water quality and stewardship.

“We feel that building wooden boats inspires youth and adults to explore hands-on learning, expand their lives and enrich their communities. We’re a place of learning where the aesthetic of craftsmanship and competence gives rise to the hard and soft skills necessary for success in the workplace and community,” Crim said. Founded in June 2011, Crim’s organization work with fifth-graders through post high school throughout the metropolitan Portland area.

“At the younger levels, we hope to inspire a love of learning where academics are relevant to real world applications,” Crim said.

Farmington View students tend to agree.

Katelyn Conway, 11, said her favorite part was “working with the whole class. It is a great opportunity for learning teamwork.”

Her classmate Juan Calderon explained that the boat building project helps him understand why math is important: “It helps me learn new stuff. I can use my math physically,” he said, adding that the project is “challenging but also fun.”

Volunteer helper Tom Nelson patiently oversaw cutting the bottom of the boat, a cut precisely penciled onto the wood. A team of students held the plywood on the table while one student ran the jigsaw.

“We have a lot of planing to do today,” Nelson said with a smile, as the jigsaw cut a bit wide at times.

“We hope to make this a sustainable program,” Rabe said. The student-crafted skiff will be auctioned off at the school auction next fall. Rabe hopes that will provide funds for another group of students to do it all over again next school year.

As students put finishing touches on the skiff and the big day draws closer, fifth-grader Ethan Jones reflects on his boat-building experience.

“I wasn’t sure this was going to be fun. Now I’m so excited about it,” he said.

A cautious fellow though, he added, “I think I’ll ask someone else to go in the water first to make sure it floats.”

Conway agreed with Jones’ reasoning: “I think my teacher and Mrs. Rabe will be the first to go in.”




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