Art, Imagination, Physics, Fun
by Bill Hudson
One Friday evening as the rest of the family settled in front of the TV, our youngest daughter Sarah began an all-nighter in our garage. She started and completed her high school extra-credit project that had been assigned an ample 5 weeks prior. It was due at 10:00 a.m. the next morning for any student wanting or, in Sarah’s case, needing additional grade points.
“So Sarah, what is this project?”
“Well, I have to build a boat out of some butcher paper and sticks they gave us. We can only use carpenter’s wood glue to hold it together -- no staples, nails, or tape -- and we decorate it using acrylic paints.”
“That sounds like a fun art project. What happens Saturday morning with the completed boat?”
“That’s the tricky part. We report to the high school swimming pool where we get in our boat and paddle to the other side of the pool to earn as many as 10 extra grade points in …
The “tricky part” clarified why this had been assigned 5 weeks in advance and could have such impact on her final
grade. This wasn’t some boat for
class; it was a
that required some understanding of forces, structure, materials, processes, and buoyancy! Sarah needed help but get this, she said
“I want to do it by myself!”
As the family slept, our procrastinator worked all night. Sarah is a free, competitive spirit and high achiever in sports and the arts. It was science which posed challenges that led to her needing 8 of the 10 possible bonus points just to pass the course. A lot was riding on her progress that evening which was to be graded as follows:
Build a boat = 4 points
Decorate the boat = 2 points
Attempt the pool = 2 points
Cross the pool = 2 points
GRAND TOTAL = 10 points
The next morning the family couldn’t wait to see “The Boat.” We went into the garage which now smelled of fresh paint and Elmer’s glue. There was Sarah standing with a dripping paint brush in her hand, reminiscent of Jackson Pollock, smiling, and looking down at her just completed work which approximated a box kite barely covered with a single coat of red paint. In large black letters she appropriately named it “Anchor” and painted the symbol next to the name. The sides were caving in from the weight of the paint alone.
You couldn’t help but laugh thinking that in only 2 hours this would be lowered into a swimming pool and Sarah, now the epic example of optimism, actually believed she would get on board, stay afloat, and paddle 75 feet. Proud, smiling, and now talking smack with attitude, Sarah had pulled us in to her dream world where miracles were expected on schedule. We had to follow this event to its conclusion. What will the other entries be like? Could anyone possibly succeed and secure the entire ten points?
The family has often discussed the next series of events which made a remarkable day of discovery and lessons learned. Lessons that were remembered and fortunately passed to the next generation.
Two weeks ago and 15 years later, my 17-year-old granddaughter Lauren came up to me and said, “Grandpop, would you help me in your garage with my Physics Boat Project for extra credit?”
My first response was, “When is it dropped into the pool?”
“A week from tomorrow grandpop.”
“Wow” I thought, the Hudson family is maturing and I was thrilled that Lauren asked me.
Lauren first gave me a copy of the rules which are contained on a single sheet of paper. It is one of the truly great projects only undertaken by a small percent of students who either love the challenge or need the points. With triumph or defeat there are only smiling faces of committed teenagers enjoying the entire day cheering each other on.
The photos below summarize the stages of Lauren’s success. I did help Lauren with a design that had to include a pointed prow, but the majority of work was on her own with a methodical approach that allowed adequate time to cut, bend, glue, and let dry the wooden structure made solely from the allotted ten, 8-foot lengths of ½ inch by ¼ inch plywood strips. Over this she cut and glued the entire 12-foot length of 36-inch wide butcher paper. With three days remaining, she applied multiple coats of the required high gloss acrylic paint. The key word here is “multiple” for the probability of success increases with each coat; paint adds both strength and waterproofing. Paint is also the only material without quantity limits. However, spray paint is strictly prohibited.
As you can see from the photos, after one week of effort Lauren easily navigated the swimming pool in her white and canary yellow boat, without a single leak, earning all possible extra points which raised her final grade from a high B to an A.
For comparison, I would show similar photographs of Sarah’s boat the “Anchor.” But the boat only lived for 15 seconds after contact with water – just long enough for Sarah to drop through the rapidly dissolving bottom and score her last “2 points for the attempt.” Sarah was “shipwrecked before getting aboard” but with only one night of work she had earned 8 of the 10 possible points giving her a solid “D” in Physics.
There are many lessons learned from both success and failure. Of greatest value are the lessons of failure as applied to life’s toughest challenges and ultimately achieving success. This requires tenacity.
If anyone is interested in obtaining a copy of the 2018 Boat Building Rules as given to my granddaughter Lauren and perhaps starting this project at your local schools, just email me your request and I will gladly forward it to you.