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Non-traditional learning floats their boat, say students

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Frank Schultz
July 3, 2012

— Students at Edison Middle School are learning English, science and math this summer by building kayaks with duct tape.

"It's actually fun," said Lane Bergey, 12, as he laid down a layer of tape on the kayak's skin last week.

Also layering tape in the heat of the not-air-conditioned cafeteria was Maria Palomino, 12.

Palomino said she liked the work, but the big fun will come Thursday when the kids test their kayaks in the water.

"It's going to be awesome. I can't wait," Maria said.

"It's a lot of hard work, but the payoff is pretty good,' said Delanie Huntoon, 13. "You get to see your creation."

About 50 middle schoolers attend the Edison Academy each day. They're part of a new way of delivering summer school, said lead teacher Steve Pease.

The district in the past offered remedial classes for students who needed to catch up and "fun" classes to keep young minds busy.

The academy combines those two ideas. Students learn math and English in formal classes, and they apply those skills in imagination-firing activities such as making kayaks.

"It's not traditional learning at all, and the kids enjoy that," said teacher Craig Bergum.

Bergum and fellow teacher Mike Wittlieff researched kayak designs and built a prototype over the past year. They came up with a frame made of half-inch PVC pipe and a skin made of sheets of plastic covered with layers of crosshatched duct tape.

"We layer these like this because it gives it more strength and makes it able to float," said Nina Bullen, 13, as she helped Wittlieff tape a section of the skin to the frame.

Double-bladed paddles will be made of PVC pipe and Sunny Delight drink containers.

Pipe fittings, glue and duct tape-covered cardboard for the seat are the only other materials.

Bergum said each of the six kayaks will use up about nine rolls of tape. He figures the total cost of an 8-foot-long kayak is about $63.

While the instructors know what they're doing, they let the students make mistakes and brainstorm solutions. Fastening the pipe to the fittings with quick-drying glue was particularly challenging, with many trials and errors.

"It was all specific. It had to be straight," said Makayla Lewis, 14.

Learning to solve problems is one of the course's objectives, Bergum said. Students also used math skills for measurements and calculating the kayaks' surface area.

They learned the physics of buoyancy and displacement, and they will learn about water quality by taking and testing samples from the Traxler Park lagoon.

Creative writing is also a part of the course. Students were asked to imagine what it would be like to take the kayaks out on the water.

Building an actual kayak stirred the imaginations of students who otherwise were not motivated to write, Bergum said.

The kayaks are being used as prizes to encourage attendance. Students earn tickets for days they attend, and those go into a drawing. The lucky winner will take the kayak home when summer school ends.

A video-production class is following the project and will produce a how-to video, Bergum said. Plans are to post instructions and a parts list on the Edison Middle School website later this summer.

Wittlieff and Bergum are confident the kayaks will float, although they won't know for sure until they take them to the Marshall Middle School pool Thursday. They acknowledge the boats could be punctured during use in an actual stream or river.

"That's why you keep a roll of duct tape in the storage area of the kayak," Wittlieff said.



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