HOWLAND -- When Shannon Hurd told her eighth-grade pupils at Maplewood Middle School to go float their boat, she wasn't kidding.
Three weeks later, the 21 members of Hurd's science class were racing their cardboard-and-duct-tape boats in the swimming pool of Quantum Fitness and Health in Howland.
Their five boats, Motion Against the Drift, Lucky Maiden, The Crew, The Boat and MCI Sloan Ride, were slipped onto the water Tuesday. Their skippers frantically paddled as classmates cheered.
Hurd, a second-year teacher in the school district, said while her pupils were learning what makes a boat float -- buoyancy, density and other principles of physics -- they studied ships such as the Titanic, even though it sank.
"They got a little historical background," Hurd noted.
Each of the five teams put together drawings of their boats and made scale models to determine if they would stay afloat. Golf balls were used as weights. The models were tested in a sink in their classroom.
"I'm very impressed with their project," Hurd said before the crafts were launched.
Lessons in physics
Middle school principal Kevin Spicher said before the launching, "There's a lot of physics behind it. We'll find out if they learned their lessons."
Besides cardboard and duct tape, Spicher pointed out that construction materials included caulking, water sealer and empty plastic pop bottles.
As his classmates yelled encouragement, A.J. Grayson, 14, of Mecca, started paddling. He didn't get very far as his craft listed onto its side, and A.J. fell out.
As it turned out, his team had installed pop bottles on the bottom; this didn't work.
"We thought the bottles would give us an edge," A.J. said.
Natalie Conrad, 14, of Johnston, made it to the end of the pool without sinking, but the agony on her face showed she had worked hard.
"I didn't think I had enough power," Natalie said as she emerged dry from her boat.
Melissa Sloan, 13, of Johnston, rowed her boat almost effortlessly with a winning time of 21.25 seconds.
Melissa said she attributes the time to the rounded rather than flat bottom of the boat. She wasn't told until Monday that she would be the skipper.
Melissa also had an advantage: "I play a lot of sports."

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