Almond School fifth-graders boarded their handmade boats at Shoreline Lake in Mountain View last month to learn firsthand whether the vessels they designed and built proved seaworthy.
The event was part of a project-based learning unit, “To Sail, or Not to Sail? … It’s an Exploration!” The unit – focused on the role boats played in early exploration – encouraged students to design and build boats using money they raised through capital ventures.
According to fifth-grade teacher Laura Ohlund, all but one of the students’ boats successfully sailed.
“Just one boat ended up partially submerged, but that provided a great learning experience, too,” she said.
Ohlund said she enjoyed watching her students’ excitement as the unit culminated in the activity.
“As students reflected about the event, several said they would change the design of their boats,” she added.
To raise funds to build their boats, students learned how to start and manage a business using BizWorld, an entrepreneurship program. Ohlund said students formed companies and acted as entrepreneurs to design, manufacture, market and sell their products. Students created and sold products ranging from duct-tape wallets to pom-pom yarn animals and handmade soap and jewelry. All profits went toward purchasing materials to build each team’s cardboard boat.
Ed Han, co-founder of Tiny Prints, visited students to discuss his experiences as an entrepreneur and advise them on how to launch a successful venture.
“I was super honored and thrilled to be a part of the journey, from discussing business ideas with students to seeing the end product that Columbus himself would have been proud to sail,” Han said. “I was blown away by the effort of the teachers and students, some groups bringing in three-figure revenues. I believe we will see venture capitalists circling the parking lot at the corner of El Monte and Almond when the kids come back to school.”
The project incorporated content and learning from all disciplines. In social studies, students learned about early explorers of the New World and their sailing tools. In reading, they read “Pedro’s Journal.” In math, they learned about geometry, design and volume. In science, they studied volume, buoyancy, water displacement and density.
Students created prototypes of their boats and conducted floating experiments to test their hypotheses. Eventually, using limited supplies, teamwork and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math knowledge, students designed and constructed boats to sail themselves.
Almond’s fifth-grade teaching team – Ohlund, Joe Chan and Samantha Nguyen – looks for “new and innovative ways to engage our students in learning and to find meaningful 21st-century experiences,” Nguyen said.
The teachers expressed appreciation for the support they received from Principal Erika Benadom and the Los Altos School District – who encouraged them to pursue new ideas – and from the many parents who helped with transporting boats from Almond to Shoreline Lake.