Engineering floats these students' boats

four students rowing a cardboard boat in a swimming poolThe end of semester Plymouth Whitemarsh High School (PWHS) engineering classes' cardboard boat race has become a must-see event at the school. Students in Honors Engineering 1, Honors Engineering 2 and Pre-AP Engineering, as well as some former engineering students and some special guests, took part in the project.

"It is a rapid fire, one-week assignment," said Teacher Jim Muscarella, who is a key member of an exclusive pilot program working to establish national standardized high school courses in engineering through an initiative called E4USA (Engineering For Us All). "Students have one week to design and build a boat. The only directions are they may only use cardboard and duct tape, and the boat may be no longer than 18 feet."

The boats are scored on a point system. Each boat is awarded one point per occupant per each trip the length of the pool. The number of occupants per boat ranged from one to six.

A team of juniors Adrien Boyle and Noor Al-Hedeshi, sophomore Maya Hoffman and freshman Tori Pettine won the race with 50 points, 19 better than a boat built by seniors Isabella Schaffer, Julia Evan, Skyla-Ann Ruck, Kate Pezzano, Yoo Hong, Alexis Duffy and Christopher Wi.

"I was very surprised that our boat won," said Hoffman, a Distinguished Honor Roll student. "Our team is made up of students in Engineering 1, and we competed against all of the different Engineering classes. I was shocked we even made it across the water."

male student working on a carboard boat in an open space.Among the reasons Hoffman chose Engineering 1 as an elective were a passion for science and an opportunity to be creative and problem solve. In the class she learned that longer boats are faster than shorter ones but harder to steer. Thus, her team opted to design and build a medium-sized boat, 10-feet long, that would move through the water with ease forward and backwards to eliminate the need for turning at each end of the pool.

"The most difficult part of the project was making the boat strong and secure," she added. "It is difficult to make a boat completely of cardboard and duct tape. We layered the bottom of our boat with three layers of cardboard to make it very sturdy. We also coated our boat with duct tape to make it water-resistant."

The engineering classes at PWHS are part of the school's EDI (Entrepreneurship, Design and Innovation) Department. The engineering program is one of the reasons Newsweek magazine recently named PWHS one of the top STEM high schools in the nation.