Aluminum Foil Boats End of Year Project

Chris KeslerBlog, Physical ScienceLeave a Comment

How Long Can Your Boat Float?

Today we had the students build aluminum foils boats.  The objective was that they had to build a boat that would support 1000g given a limited amount of supplies.

This is an activity where nearly every student was engaged, and they all had a lot of fun.  We started off the lesson with a quick 5-min video from Bill Nye on buoyancy. We watched from about 1:00-6:00 in the video below.


Here is a list of supplies that you need for the aluminum foil boat challenge.

Per group:

  • 1 piece of aluminum foil about 50 cm long
  • 4″ piece of tape (yes, that’s inches)
  • 3 straws (you could do without the straws but the students do come up with unique ways to use them.

Per class:

  • 1 fish tank or large tub that can hold the water
  • A board to chart results
  • 20, 50g stackers.  You can use whatever you want, but our total mass was 1000g in increments of 50 (see pic of stackers below

50g stackers

The Build

Each group gets a piece of aluminum foil, a piece of tape, and 3 straws.  They have 20 minutes to build a boat that will support 1000g of weight.

We found that it was helpful to talk about different kinds of boats and surface area before the build process started.  We asked questions like:

  1. What happens if you stand up in a canoe?
  2. If you lay out all of the weight in a flat area, how much surface does it cover?
  3. How high are the sides on different kinds of boats?

We then let them go to work.

aluminum foil boat challenge build

Here’s a team that was super serious during their build process.

aluminum foil boats

How Much Can Your Boat Hold?

Once the boats were build we made the students give us some predictions about how many gram stackers their boat was going to hold.  The winning boats each class period tended to be the ones that had large surface areas like a barge, yet had high enough sides that water couldn’t get in.  I would guess that 6cm seemed to be a really good height to hold all the weight.

We called them up group by group and the fun began.  This is my teaching partner putting the weight in, but it would also be fun to let the students do this part.

You can hear their excitement in the background!

This was a great activity and took just about 45 minutes.  It’s perfect for the end of the year or just before a holiday when the students are already riled up.