Sink or swim test for students at Lakota cardboard regatta

Dozens of high school students risked getting dunked Friday as they put novice engineering skills to a watery test of racing mini-cardboard boats.

The Lakota East Freshman School students paddled, splashed and floundered in the Lakota YMCA swimming pool.

They walked away wetter but wiser in the ways of structural engineering and teamwork.

“We learn the entire engineering design process from start to finish,” said Ken Kinch, instructor with the Butler Tech engineering program at Lakota East’s Freshman and high school school.

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“They had to brain storm solutions … and as a group they had to put that solution to work and build their canoes out of only corrugated cardboard and duct tape. And they are learning about team work and how to be a graceful winner and a graceful loser,” said Kinch standing pool side next to some of the soaked teen participants who took a spill.

The annual event is a popular one at Lakota because it incorporates a rare tactile engineering experience as the teens — and their cardboard boat projects — either sink or swim.

Students from Lakota East, including Nick Branson and Fabian Guzman participate in a cardboard regatta at the Lakota YMCA, Friday, May 19, 2017. The Butler Tech, Project Lead the Way, Intro to Engineer Design program tested students design and teamwork skills. GREG LYNCH / STAFF (Staff Writer)

The two-person boat teams have to paddle against another boat by paddling the length of the indoor pool and back with the winner moving on in the competition.

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The students constructed 31 boats. Some worked and some didn’t, either sinking, collapsing or capsizing.

Regardless, said Lakota freshman Serena Clark, it’s a fun way to learn.

“A lot of teams doubted us because our boat was big and fat. And we have our repairs all right here,” she said motioning to a couple of rolls of duct tape adorning her forearm.

“We’ve been watching other people’s boats and how they messed up and how they are sinking and paddling and turning” and learned from those, said Clark, whose all-girl team was among the finalists in the races.

The Butler Tech engineering program is part of an extensive satellite system of classes offered by the career school inside high schools throughout the county.

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Most recently a Butler Tech class in computer science saw a group of teens at Ross High School earned honors for inventing a mobile device app for school security, winning $50,000 in computer and digital technology for the school as national finalists.

Michael Beauchat, spokesman for Butler Tech, watched the cardboard regatta and said “I never cease to be amazed by what the teachers are doing with the students.”

“They are doing so much with technology and careers, it is just inspiring to see what the students are getting out of this. And the students love it,” said Beauchat.

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