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Fifth graders learn math through boat building


The fifth grade advanced math class had the opportunity to learn practical application of math skills through the building of wooden boats. As a culminating event at the end of the school year, students were able to spend a day on the water testing their boats in Dallas Bay.

Bright School has had a woodworking program for over 100 years and students in grades Pre-K through 5th grade alternate in art and shop each year. With shop, each grade level learns skills while being taught age appropriate tools through building projects that tie into their classroom curriculum. 

This year, under the guidance of shop teacher Richard Parks and math teacher Wendy Rogers, the fifth grade advanced math students were split into two smaller groups. One group built a boat during the fall semester while the other group built their boat during the spring semester. 

Students were involved with all aspects of construction throughout the boat building process. This included measurement, angles and geometry, along with shop skills of sanding, sawing and fastening with nails, screws and rivets. Students had to work together to complete many of the individual operations necessary to build the boats.

Fifth grade student Callista Robin Lund said, “I learned how to work better as a team when we were building the boat because many parts have to be at certain angles. It was memorable when my team was working together to row our boat.”

Mr. Parks says, “Building a wooden boat is a perfect project to demonstrate practical application of the math skills students have been learning in the classroom. When students see their completed boats after all the hard work that has gone into them, it is obvious the sense of accomplishment you see in their faces. And when students see their boats floating in the water for the first time, they can’t believe they built something like this,” said Mr. Parks, who was a middle school math teacher before he began teaching woodshop at Bright School in 2014. 

Student Evie Ranalli said, “I learned to be very specific in how things are done so they can be done well.”

Student Olivia Mahaffey said, “I was sure it was going to leak, but was surprised it didn’t. Seeing my boat float I felt so accomplished and this class definitely made my confidence grow.”

Mr. Parks wants the boat building program to continue to grow at Bright School and would like to start incorporating aspects of environmental science. He says, “It would be an amazing experience for students to perform water testing of our local watershed using boats that were made by Bright School students.”