Aluminum Boat Challenge - Unit 1 - Distance Learning

Hi everyone,
I’m looking for alternatives to the aluminum boat project for Unit 1 since we will be doing distance learning throughout the first semester. I’m hoping anyone has ideas out there!

Thank you!


I’ve been wondering the same thing. Last term I had racked up my knee and was unable to walk much. I tried a lesson where students attempted to make houses of cards. It was not a great success and I am looking for something else. Paper airplanes occurred to me but my students are not allowed to move about the room.

I feel like if you are comfortable with students actually having those things at home, they totally could try it and then document with some photos.

But, I am hesitant to think that students will have pennies or the other supplies at home.

The paper tower may be a good alternative.

They only have to have printer paper. It still could be an ask for some kids to waste a bunch of paper.
I’m thinking that I will try this and have students shoot photos and post their results.

I’m also kind of hesitant to have them shoot photos just because of showing their living situation and being embarrassed by it. There is such a diversity of what kinds of spaces people are living in at my school. We have students in shelters and others with outdoor TVs in their spa area…
Day 1-ish should be super comfortable and not trying to out people or whatever.

I wonder what people think about students making stuff and posting photos of it to whatever LMS they are using.


I like this idea! If a student feels uncomfortable about the picture, they could let us know. I envision sharing some but not all of the photos without student names attached.

This year’s curriculum has added several alternates for Aluminum Foil Boats. Look at the lesson plan for these options. There are also slides for them built into the new slide decks for unit 1.

Alternate versions of this lesson are also available.

I’m going to probably do the Paper Tower this year and see how it goes.


I used the Tower Challenge last year. Here’s my revised lesson for this coming virtual year.

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Hi All! I wanted to share this distance learning alternative for the Aluminum Boats. Here’s my slide deck.

Students need to determine the number of squares in the image on slide 6 and then justify to a partner (in breakout rooms) how they got their number. Their strategies are usually categorizing the squares and starting with the largest or smallest ones. I hope this is helpful! Students seemed to like it.

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I like this idea. Thank you for your contribution. I kind of liked the other alternative ideas as well, but each of them did not address the teamwork aspect as much. I will probably do this one first for teamwork, and then try to do another one to enforce the problem solving aspect of the lesson.

Hi did you have a worksheet that modifies the directions to this activity? Thank you

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Hi vharris, no, I did not have a worksheet that went along with this. I was on a Zoom video chat with student and I showed them the slides, then had them respond on chat AND on this Digital Journal.

I hope this is helpful!


This will be my first year teaching this course. So I am having the same problem. I started editing the activity. Here is what I have so far.Wolf, Sheep, and Cabbage Activity I am not sure exactly how I am going to run this lesson, but I am tossing around a few ideas! Thinking of doing breakout sessions on ZOOM for students to be able to work together, and provide time limits for each part of the activity to help guide them. Not completely sure yet, this is all very new to me! But, thought I’d share where I am at so far!


Is there a right answer for the number of squares? Is this a starter activity for the teamwork aspect of the lesson?

The main goal behind this lesson is to get students involved in hands-on problem solving. Resources like and have lots of free lesson plans for engineering design challenges that satisfy this goal. Most lessons are written for groups but can be adjusted for students working individually or in pairs.

Personally I’d go with something like building a paper glider to fly as far as possible in order to keep the materials list down, but that’s up to individual teachers to decide.

–Michael K.


This is so cool! Thank you for sharing it!

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I really like this idea. Thanks for sharing. I was wondering, what’s the right answer.

I think someone mentioned that you could do the activity the same as in the classroom but changing some things.I teach special ed, so my classrooms are smaller then most of yours. Anyways, I assigned the materials the day before, so when they had class everything would be ready and parents/guardians could help them. For those that didn’t have pennies we modified it to different coins. When the students were testing out their boats, I had them present it to the class. The students really enjoyed it. I think some of them were really missing those hand on activities. If you are able to split into rooms, you could split up the students and assign 1 of them to type up the notes in a shared doc, another one create the boats, and so on.


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40! So my goal is for students to prove how they know how many square there are. Many students will categorize them and say there are 8 mini squares, 18 1x1 squares etc. They don’t always do this or categorize them in this order. Some students name them “Mini” “regular” and “jumbo” squares too.

40 and its not so much a teamwork activity. I DO have students share out what they found for the total number of squares and also explain HOW they found them (which sized squares did they find first etc)

Excellent idea. Thank you for sharing. I was going to do the modified paper tower at home with my students, but not all of them have text books.