Paddling down the river in a cardboard boat
by By JOYANNA WEBER Banner Staff Writer
May 13, 2013 | 2835 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WVHS Cardboard boats
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STUDENTS Conner Jones and Chris Vaughn paddle gently down the stream (the Hiwassee River) as part of a cardboard boat project at Walker Valley High School.
Walker Valley High School students saw proverbial success on the seas as engineering and physics students paddled cardboard boats on the Hiwassee River.

This year’s classes were the first to be able to complete two laps around a buoy from the Charleston boat ramp.

“Typically we have not had as much success,” engineering teacher Alan Bivens said.

Classes work independent of each other and then come together to test the full-size boats. The objective was to be able to row to a buoy and back twice.

“Each boat had to carry two people,” Bivens said.

Bivens said he felt students did better this year because they studied similar boat projects on the Internet and learned from others’ mistakes.

Teams construct the boats from cardboard, wood glue and duct tape. Engineering students were also able to use a few added items, such as water sealant.

“It’s a really good project, because it brings in a lot of material science, buoyance, fluid dynamics ... and it also meshes the kids together from the engineering classes to the physics classes,” Bivens said.

Community members and parents came out to make the project a success and to ensure safety of the students.

Bivens said local industries helped provide the materials needed for the project. Each student participant was given a T-shirt to commemorate the event.

One team even had a sponsor for their project.

Hunter McCaskill said High Country paid for the team’s boat paddles. McCaskill said he met the business owners through a mutual friend.

The team had one of the smallest boats on the river that day. Bivens said he was surprised by how well the boat did.

“The boat was actually very maneuverable on the water, (and) durable enough that they got their two laps in,” McCaskill said.

Other designs did not fare as well. Seth Campbell’s team was one of them.

“We didn’t last more than a couple of seconds,” Campbell said.

Campbell said his team had a complex canoe design.

“The bottom of his boat actually had a fin like you would see on a sailboat,” Bivens said. “We’ve never tried that. ... That adds to the body of knowledge.”

Campbell said the complex design had more areas that could cause problems then a simpler design would have.

“Garrett Wallace, Devin Gartin and Eric Parker — that was probably our most outstanding team,” Bivens said.

At the beginning of the design process, each student created a scale model boat. These designs served as a springboard for teams.

Physics teacher Eric Swafford has been doing the project with his students for nine years. Engineering students have been participating for the past three years.

“I was researching, looking for something for my physics class to do that was different. ... It really got the students involved,” Swafford said.

Engineering students focused more on design and materials, while the physics students focused on the math aspects.

The physics teachers said it presents a good opportunity to develop teamwork skills and apply what they are learning.

“Ours was more about calculating how much water was being displaced and how much maximum [weight] they could put in the boat,” Swafford said.

Wallace said he enjoyed figuring out how to make the cardboard hold up best. While researching similar projects on the Internet, Wallace found a team that had used shellac to seal the cardboard on their boat.

“That was a little bit cheating, so I had to think of something else,” Wallace said.

Bivens suggested water sealant.

Sarah Everett, physics student, said she enjoyed the problem-solving aspects of the project.

“Nothing on our boat could be thicker than one inch, so we couldn’t just stack it, stack it, stack it,” Everett said. “But we knew that the best way to make sure we didn’t sink was to distribute our weight over a greater surface. A lot of the physics class boats had a much larger bottom than the engineering class boats.”

Everett said she was pleased with how her team’s boat performed. The team used wood glue to seal any cracks in the cardboard. Duct tape was used to reinforce where two pieces connected after the wood had dried.

Bivens said the classes made sure that no debris from the boats was left in the river.

“The boats will start breaking down. Cardboard and water do not mix. So, the idea is to take two diametrically opposed materials and make them work together,” Bivens said. “The city of Charleston even went so far as to send a garbage truck down to the river.”

Between the two classes there were 13 boats.