Posted by: Carly Acree King on Jan/5/2018



“We’re building boats today!” whispered a second-grade student at Eaton Elementary School as she walked in a single file line from the library to her classroom. Another student following closely behind displayed a thumbs up and huge smile. The excitement for their new classroom project was hard to contain.

In just a few short minutes, students from Lisa McKee and Julie Marshall’s second-grade classes at Eaton Elementary were about to discover how to use simple household materials to build floating objects – all thanks to a Robert P. Bell Education Grant. A grant of $230 was awarded to Mrs. McKee and Mrs. Marshall to support a hands-on STEM project that introduces the application of scientific principles and encourages higher thinking skills.

“This type of project provides a variety of challenges for our students,” said Mrs. McKee. “We realize that some students need projects that will challenge their thought process, while others need projects to address both their strengths and weaknesses. A project like this does exactly that.”

One-by-one student group numbers were called out – “Group 1…. Group 2…. Group 3…” Each group retrieved their pencil box from Mrs. McKee and picked a spot in the classroom to get to work. The pencil boxes were filled with folded up pieces of paper covered with each group member’s sketch of their boat. The back side of their papers contained a chart for the students to use in testing their objects, recording the results, and planning for improvements.

“Without this grant, we would be left to teach about these lessons with only a textbook and some computer activities,” said Mrs. McKee. “We would not be able to do a project of this size without the Bell Grant.”

Groups collected their materials from the supply station that was arranged at the front of the classroom. Popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, straws, toothpicks, tape, balloons, foil, and wax paper were available for the groups to use to construct their floating object. Students could use all of the supplies, or just some, but they were limited to only the materials provided.

Popsicle sticks were the most popular building material, followed closely by the aluminum foil and tape. Some of the groups focused on the aesthetics of the object, while others built for function. The goal was to make sure the object could float.

Once the groups were finished with their build, they moved to an adjacent classroom to test their creation. On the top of a table was a small, oblong inflatable pool filled with water. To be successful, the object must float the length of the pool without letting in water. Many of the students focused on the creation of a flag for the boat to be able to move down the water, but what they didn’t know is that Mrs. McKee and Mrs. Marshall had brought in a hair dryer to help move the boat.

The first group that finished their boat moved quickly but carefully to the other classroom, as to not disturb their prototype. At first, they refused the use of the hair dryer, but then decided to use it when they realized their boat would not move on its own. With one quick blast from the blow dryer, their boat was off! Each child in the group held their breath in anticipation for the boat to make it to the other side of the pool.

The group let out a collective cheer as it reached the other end of the pool, but quickly realized that it had started to fill with water when stopped. “Oh no,” cried one student. “I thought we made it!” shouted another. They retrieved their boat from the water and returned to the classroom to improve their project.

Throughout the hour, groups completed their objects and tested them in the pool of water. Some models stayed dry and those groups were challenged by Mrs. McKee to build a second boat, but without the popsicle sticks. Other groups watched water fill their boats as soon as it entered the pool, allowing them to see the principle of buoyancy in action.

As the students cleaned up their supplies for the day, Mrs. McKee expressed her appreciation for the funding. “This just makes my teacher heart happy,” she said with her hands over heart. “We really would not have been able to do this project without the [Bell] Grant.” While Mrs. McKee and Mrs. Marshall both receive a classroom stipend for supplies, it isn’t nearly enough to cover supplies for projects like this.

“We were thoughtful in designing this project and selecting the types of supplies so that we can use them again for another project,” Mrs. McKee said. “This is just a really great opportunity. I’m so grateful.”

Support Bell Teacher Grants

Robert P. Bell Education Grants are awarded to teachers with innovative ideas, programs, or projects that are designed to stimulate learning in their students. Grants range in size from $50 - $450. Your support to the Robert P. Bell Teacher Grant Fund will give teachers opportunities to enhance classroom learning.