Baker Demonstration School eighth-graders gathered on Jan. 11 for their annual cardboard Boat Regatta. The competition is more than a fun spectator event for the whole school – it also serves as the cumulative project for the eighth-graders’ classroom explorations in physics and math.

The Regatta had three heats of races, with each race requiring the competitors to row their boats to the end of the school pool and back. In a final round, the three winners of each heat raced against each other to determine the overall Regatta winner.

Regatta participants Max Smith and Mitchell Nakamoto from team “Seapreme” – a play on the name of popular clothing brand Supreme – explained the construction process that led them to their first-place time of 36.59 seconds. Max said they were presented with a “significant challenge” since “their calculations were based on the [assumption] that [the boat] would be water-tight,” despite their never having the opportunity to test their constructions in water prior to the competition. Mitchell explained how the team used 3D modeling to aid their construction process and created a blueprint to determine the size of each piece of their unique design.

There were fun parts of the competition, too. Each team decided a theme for their boat and in addition to the two refrigerator boxes and four rolls of duct tape allowed for construction, each team decorated its boat to help it stand out.

Sofia Rocca and Skye Elzaurdia of team “Buoyoncé,” said, “The decorations were really fun.” Sofia added she “liked the whole process.” While the team did not win their heat, they won style-points for their pre-race choreography to Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies.”

Head of School Carly Andrews said no one really knows the origin of the competition, but it has been a Baker tradition for about a decade. Explaining the educational value of the race, she said, “[The project promotes] this thinking we want to develop in terms of iteration and trying something and revising it… And then knowing ultimately that at the end you have this audience… There’s no one that didn’t want to do this.”

“It’s meant to be an experience that they design from start to finish… their involvement is the point and the process.” Ms. Andrews said.

Science Teacher Natasha Itkin elaborated on the curriculum leading up to the Regatta. She said the project comes at the end of the eighth-graders’ study of physics, where they learn about density and Archimedes’ principle of water displacement. Students have the opportunity to craft smaller boats during the unit, experimenting with calculations of volume and mass. Finally, they get to tackle their Regatta constructions, a challenge which Ms. Itkin called, “A true engineering problem.”

Both educators emphasized the importance of the element of tradition for the Regatta. “Each year they learn from the past and the boats get better,” said Ms. Andrews. The kindergarteners through seventh-graders all come out to watch the event, so “kids grow up watching [it],” said Ms. Itkin.

Sixth graders Celeste Riemesma and Beatrice Andrews both looked forward to their chance to race. “I’ve been coming since first grade,” said Celeste, and Beatrice, who has been watching since last year, said, “it’s always kind of fun [watching].”

“We know the eighth-graders,” she added.

Reflecting upon the Regatta tradition, Max said the event, which always occurs at the beginning of the eighth-graders’ final semester at Baker, “feels like the beginning of the end of eighth grade.”

Max, Mitchell, Skye and Sofia will all attend Evanston Township High School  this coming fall.