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Boats and Books: Integrated, Place-based Education at Its Best

After 10 weeks, 44 students from two sixth-grade classes at Metropolitan Learning Center can now check “build a boat” off their bucket list. And not just any boat. These students built a sailboat version of a Bevin’s Skiff, adding time and complexity to this unique place-based project. The addition of a centerboard, mast, and tiller to this “rowboat” provided enhanced wood working practice and skill.

It was important that the students build a sailboat as it related to another key component of the project. The The entire class read “Turn of the Tide”, a novel by local author Roseanne Parry, set in Astoria, Oregon. The story follows two young cousins from different sides of the Pacific Ocean as they master their cultural differences and the sailing of small boats. Reading the book while building the boat "made both experiences more valuable," says Peter Crim, Executive Director at Wind & Oar.  

The story also lends itself to student exploration of not only Oregon history but its geography. One of the cousin’s father in the story is a Columbia River Bar Pilot, the highly skilled and dangerous job of leading ships across the famously treacherous waters at the mouth of the Columbia River. This allowed for us to first explore local geography, linking our home city of Portland to the Willamette River which flows into the Columbia, which then flows northwest to the Pacific ocean at Astoria.  

One particular challenge of this project was building the boat inside a traditional classroom, which made for a very crowded space. Despite the small space, having students rotate between boat construction and off boat lessons, as we do with each Bevins project, students stayed engaged and focused. The complementary off-boat activities provide a truly integrated curriculum linking math, physics, geography, design, and literacy to the hands-on experience of constructing a boat. Simulating watersheds, collecting data for topographical mapping, designing and testing hull shapes, and wood scarfs, pulleys, levers,  and communication with semaphore flags, are just a few of the off-boat lessons. A sense of place was enhanced with the focus on geography introducing navigational charts of Astoria, and a large physical land map of Oregon where students learned to identify and chart the state’s numerous rivers and watersheds.

This really was an incredible experience for everyone involved. But don’t take our word for it. Here are some great thank you messages we received from our students: 

"Thank you for teaching us about pulleys! You and Jake really helped me get better at math. I really loved doing the fantasy maps and I am grateful that I got to work with you. My favorite part was the scavenger hunt because of the candy but also because I LOVE solving puzzles."

"Thank you for teaching us about pulleys and letting us make maps. I learned a lot."

"Thank you for teaching us on the boat and giving us your time. I learned quite a bit about watershed and had so much fun when making the fantasy maps, so thanks for the experience."

"Thank you for giving us the opportunity to do a treasure hunt for candy. When I didn't understand something, you did a really good job of explaining it. You also bough candy for us! I'm so grateful, thank you so much!"​​​​​​​

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