Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Cardboard Boat Building in Math Class

Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Cardboard Boat Building in Math Class

Article excerpt

If you want to get the attention of a group of eighth grade math students, tell them they are going to build a life-size cardboard boat. To increase interest, follow up this statement by telling them that two to four of them will actually be rowing this boat across a small pond. You will likely hear replies such as, "You're nuts," and "I'm not getting in that boat," or even, "You have lost your mind." But you may also notice excitement, a willingness to try, and wonder in the eyes of students.

Eighth grade math students at Oasis Charter Middle School in southwest Florida have completed this project for the past four years. What has now become a source of great student pride at the school began as a challenge by the eighth grade teachers to their students. The teachers sought to develop a capstone project, which brought together the key mathematical issues students should learn in their middle grades math classes (i.e., scale, volume, Pythagorean theorem). They also desired a project to engage students in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) disciplines to help young adolescents develop skills necessary to thrive in a 21st century workforce. As a result, the cardboard boat challenge was created and implemented. In this article, an overview of STEM education is shared, along with a discussion of the struggles and triumphs of the eighth grade students as they planned and built their cardboard boats.

STEM education and the challenges of the 21st century

With increasingly new technologies, and a rapidly expanding knowledge base, the twenty-first century is changing how K-12 schools educate students. They can no longer expect that information they learn in a technologically-based class will be up-to-date a few years into the future (McLeod, Fisch 8c Bestler, 2009). As a result, young adolescents must understand how to think critically, problem solve, and collaborate with peers to overcome the challenge of a rapidly changing knowledge base; in essence, allowing students the opportunity to "make sense of the world rather than learn isolated bits and pieces of phenomena" (Morrison, 2006, p. 4). Further, policymakers claim that if students do not emerge from K-12 schools with the ability to enter the workforce understanding innovation, scientific knowledge, and the ability to discover new ideas, the economy of the United States will suffer (Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century, 2007). Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them," which summarizes the challenge of the new century in which middle school students must be able to look beyond current knowledge and work together to creatively construct novel solutions to unique problems.

Unfortunately, many students are being turned away from entering the STEM fields once they enter college. This absence has been represented in literature using an analogy of a leaking STEM "pipeline" (NCES Digest of Educational Statistics, 2008). The leaking in the pipeline occurs at a variety of places, including high school and college (NCES Digest of Educational Statistics, 2008). Research findings have shown students leaving STEM fields for a variety of reasons, including an absence of a proper knowledge base and lack of interest in the field (American Association of State Colleges and Universities, 2005). A lack of diversity persists in the individuals receiving degrees in STEM fields, with women and minorities being much less represented (Blickenstaff, 2005; Katehi, 2009).

According to a recent report from the White House, the United States graduates approximately 300,000 bachelors and associates degrees in STEM fields in the United States annually (PCAST, 2012). Further, PCAST (2012) states, "Fewer than 40% of students who enter college intending to major in a STEM field complete a STEM degree" (p. i). A 2011 report by the Office of Naval Research furthers this statistic by stating only 6% of high school seniors will get a bachelors degree in a STEM field (Office of Naval Research, 2011). …

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