Task Name: Whatever Floats Your Boat?

Subject/Grade: Science 8


  • Cause/Effect - Students explore relationship between shape, displacement volume, and buoyant effect.
  • Competition - Student teams compete with each other to be awarded "contract" and hefty prizes.
  • Creation - Students create a unique vessel when given basic materials.

Goals/Knowledge/Skills: This task is an integrated activity that combines content and skills from Science, Mathematics, Technology, and ELA. It will provide students with the opportunity to apply knowledge and skills in accordance with the following NYS standards:
MST intermediate level standards:

  • 1(scientific inquiry)
  • 2 (information systems)
  • 4.3 (physical characteristics of matter)
  • 5.1 (engineering design)
  • 7 (interdisciplinary problem solving)
  • NYS ELA standard 1 - Written communication

This performance task is summative because it is designed to assess students at the end of a unit of instruction. The learning outcomes of the unit of study will be assessed by a combination of evaluative assessment tools during instruction, a summative unit level paper-and-pencil test, and this performance task.

Previously Taught Content: The unit of instruction will include the concepts of density, volume, displacement, and Archimedes' principle. During this unit the students will learn definitions of applicable terms, formulas used to calculate density, and they will be able to describe and apply the concepts taught.

Task Objectives: Students will accomplish the following objectives during the completion of this performance task:

  • Design a vessel that will float in water. This is a minimum project requirement.
  • Design the vessel that will support the most weight when compared to other vessels in the class. This objective is for purposes of intraclass and interclass competition and will not be a factor in the evaluation process.
  • Given a specific mass of clay and three straws, construct a model of their design and conduct test floats.
  • Based on the results of the test floats, design and implement modifications to improve their initial model.
  • Draw and label a top-view and side-view sketch of their initial and final designs. This sketch must include 3-dimensional measurements of the vessel in metric units.
  • Communicate by means of progress reports and a final written report of the entire process, including the phases of design, test, modification, and final outcome. This report will include a reflective portion that will help to assess the student’s affective outcomes with regard to this project.

All of the objectives of this task are designed to allow students to operate at or above the level of analysis in Bloom's taxonomy.

Task Prompt: You and your partner are ship architects who own your own company. One day you receive a strange package. In the package is the following letter:

To whom it may concern,
Your firm is in competition with many other firms to win a design contract from a very, very, very rich teacher represented by our office. All you have to do is design and build a new yacht for the teacher. Your company will be provided all the materials you require. In addition you will be paid a very hefty sum for all your hard work. The teacher only has two requirements. The first is that his ship must be the safest he has ever seen. He doesn’t want any accidents. The second is that it must support more weight than any other yacht so that he can transport all his money. In order to decide which team to hire, the teacher is sponsoring a contest. He has decided that the team who can design the best model will win the contest and the contract for the real vessel. The minimum requirement for entry in the contest is to design a clay boat that will float by itself in water. This will prove to the teacher that you can design a vessel that is safe. The winner of the contest will be the team that designs the model that will support the most weight. In case of a tie, the teacher will award the contract based on creativity and imaginative use of materials. In order to encourage fairness and creativity, each team will be given the same materials, 100g of clay and three plastic straws. These materials may be used any way your team wants, as long as your model floats by itself and has an area in the center that weights can be placed into. Finally, in order to get a sense of how your team works, the teacher wants regular updates on your design process, and will require a written report of the entire process when you present your model. The teacher has included an outline of the report requirements that your team must follow. Please refer frequently to this document as you write your report. If your team doesn’t present a good report, the very rich teacher says he will not consider your model for the competition. Good luck and we hope to see you at the final competition.

Also in the package you find three straws, 100g of clay, and the following report outline:

Requirements for Written Report:

Dear Team,
Thank you for participating in my contest. In order to be sure that your design team is capable of producing what I'm looking for, I would like you to submit a written report of your entire design process, start to finish. Your report must include:

  • Detailed information on what your initial design was
  • The results of any test floats you made
  • An explanation of any modifications you made to your initial design and the reasons for them
  • An explanation of why your team decided to use this particular design
  • Calculations that show the mass, volume (by displacement), and density of your vessel
  • Calculations of the buoyant force on your vessel
  • An explanation of how Archimedes' Principle applies to this project
  • Two drawings (top-view and side-view) of your final design. Drawings should be 3-dimensional and include measurements (using metric units).
  • A 1-2 paragraph section that tells what you learned, how you worked and contributed to the team effort, and what you liked and/or disliked about this project.

The entire report, including the drawings, must be done on a word processor. The drawings should be done on a separate page by themselves. It must be double-spaced using 12pt. font. It must have a title page that includes the names of all the team members. It must be between 4-8 pages long, including the title page and bibliography. It must include a bibliography of any sources, including your textbook your team may have used to complete the assignment or the report. The report must be submitted before your vessel will be admitted to the competition.

Note: This assignment sheet is being used by the High Plains R*TEC with the special permission of its creator, Brian Christopher. Reproduction of this page is acceptable as long as this note is included.

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