Lakeland’s annual Cardboard Boat Challenge takes place this Saturday, and students from the Combee Academy of Design and Engineering are ready.
For the second year in a row, Combee will be the only traditional public elementary school to compete in the event, which dares amateur boatmakers to craft vessels out of nothing more than cardboard and duct tape — and attempt to sail them through a marked course on Lake Hollingsworth.
It’s exactly the sort of test that attracts a school like Combee Academy. The former Combee Elementary converted to a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) magnet school last year, and students and staff pursued the Cardboard Boat Challenge as an extension of their curriculum. Success in the event requires creative design skills and teamwork, though community spirit and environmental awareness are important facets, too.
“We wanted to look for things where we could get the kids out into the community so they could feel like they were making an impact on something beyond the classroom,” said Tracy Miller, a teacher resource specialist at Combee Academy. “A lot of the kids had never even been to Lake Hollingsworth before. We had to go buy a set of paddles and went out in the hallway to teach them how to row.”
As the students learned how to design, measure and assemble their boats, they also took part in broader lessons on water quality and conservation.
Fifth-graders in Combee’s after-school STEM club entered two boat teams — named Algae Avengers and Carp Diem — in the Challenge last year. Neither sank, and the Algae Avengers won a Team Spirit award for their efforts.
Combee’s STEM club, which has since expanded to include fourth-graders, will have three teams competing in Saturday’s event: Bloom Busters, Fish Fighters and the Trash Titans. The students have been working diligently after school under the guidance of Miller, as well as teachers Lisa Armstrong, Lydia Durrence, Kevin Fisher and Michelle Lindquist.
Principal Tammy Farrens has been an especially avid supporter of the club’s nautical adventures.
“I think it’s important for kids to think beyond themselves and their school. That’s part of the whole design process,” Farrens said. “You’re not just building or engineering things for yourself, you’re thinking about how it’s going to impact the bigger picture: What am I going to do with this information? Is this going to make things easier? The kids are happy, they love coming to school, they’re being challenged. And that’s really neat to see — they’re excited about learning.”