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Boat Float Engineering Design (Resource Exchange)

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Pre-college Engineering Education Division Technical Session 12

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Krista Schumacher University of St. Thomas

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Krista is an undergraduate Elementary Education and STEM Education major at the University of St. Thomas.

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Deborah Besser P.E. University of St. Thomas

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Dr. Besser, PE, ENV SP, holds a PhD in education and MS and BS in civil engineering. Currently, she is civil engineering chair and Center for Engineering Education director. Previous experience includes faculty positions in diverse universities where she has taught a variety of coursework including steel, timber, concrete and masonry design, construction, engineering economy, engineering graphics and engineering education. Prior to teaching, Dr. Besser, a licensed engineer, was a design engineer with HNTB-CA, where she worked on seismic retrofits and new design of high profile transportation structures.

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Annmarie Thomas University of St. Thomas

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AnnMarie Thomas is a professor in the School of Engineering and the Opus Colluege of Business at the University of St. Thomas where she is the director of the UST Center for Engineering Education. Her research group, the Playful Learning Lab, focuses on engineering and design education for learners of all ages.

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Boat Float Engineering Design, is a STEAM middle school lesson in which students apply engineering design strategies, develop teamwork skills and develop an experiential base for further exploration of Archimedes Principle. This lesson, which has been tested in multiple scenarios from graduate engineering education classes to out of school middle school girl STEAM programming, is an inquiry-based lesson. The anticipatory set begins with students identifying prior knowledge of ship failures, including the Titanic, and prior knowledge of the need for empathy in engineering design. This engaging discussion cascades into an engineering design synopsis in which learners must construct a floatation device which will hold a person, which is modeled as a 5-pound bag of flour. The design constraints include only the use of recyclable materials for constructing the boat-float. Empathy is an important project focus as the learners name their bag of flour and create a story about their “passenger” in their boat. This personal connection allows learners to strengthen their connection to empathy in engineering through reflection and theorize the necessity of understanding the “who” component of engineering design. Another key aspect of this activity is the teamwork and collaboration skills that learners must utilize to be successful. Teams of three to four students have time constraints for planning, constructing, and testing their “boats.” Improvements in iterations must be discussed and justified. Mature learning groups can use this experiential learning to launch into Archimedes Principle and sophisticated boat design principles.

Schumacher, K., & Besser, D., & Thomas, A. (2020, June), Boat Float Engineering Design (Resource Exchange) Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34222

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