Adrian Chavez teaches advanced placement physics at Coronado High School in an unusual way. 

He divides his six classes into teams of four to six students and challenges them to work together to build a boat that will carry two team members across the El Paso Country Club swimming pool.

Here’s the real challenge:  the only materials that can be used are cardboard, masking tape and silicon seal for the seams. Spray on water seal also is allowed, but only for the bottom third of the boat.

No glue, duct tape or other materials are permitted. Paddles are supplied, although one enterprising team rigged a makeshift propeller using PVC pipe for a shaft that protruded through the cardboard hull. 

The teams received extra credit for adopting themes for their watercraft and donning theme related costumes. Some 36 boats were produced for this year’s event involving about 160 students.

First place by virtue of the fastest pool crossing went to “Voyager,” built and crewed by Christian Lomarquez, Daniel Morales, Santiago Ramos-Assam, Alberto Perches and his brother Sebastian Perches.

How is the project graded? 

“This challenge is designed to be more of a skill building exercise where the stakes are low as well as application of what might be considered ‘material physics,’ Chavez said.

“The students are not punished grade-wise if their boat does not perform as expected with only a minor penalty if they do not cross the entire length (of the pool) -- so long as they adhere to the materials and building restrictions.”

The teacher said the objectives of the project, which he has been doing since 2008, are two-fold:

 “One, to take materials … that individually are inherently weak and combine them in a manner that produces a water-proof and ‘seaworthy’ boat that is able to hold at a minimum two students and successfully navigate the length of the pool. 

“And, two, to learn and practice team skills such as time/project management, planning and research, as well as overcoming personality and work ethic conflicts that inevitably come up.”

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