Photos of student competing in the cardboard regatta race.

Cardboard Regatta sets sail at Millersville University pool

It was sink or swim on December 21 as Penn Manor High School Physics students set sail in the Cardboard Regatta at the Millersville University swimming pool.

The event pitted teams of students against one another to determine which boats — constructed entirely out of cardboard and duct tape — could stay afloat the longest.

The competition was the brainchild of Penn Manor High School physics teacher Barney Peace, who challenged his student to design, build and pilot the boats.

About 60 students participated, either in the water or by helping their peers get into their boats, timing the race heats, breaking down the soggy cardboard creations or serving as commentators.

Students had to provide the cardboard and duct tape for each vessel. Prior to construction, they learned about Archimedes’ principle of buoyancy — force equals the weight of the water displaced.

They used that concept and density to calculate the water level on the sides of their boats. They also calculated the maximum mass their boats could hold. Many students doubled the layers of cardboard or added extra support to help their boats stay afloat longer.

While helpers held their cardboard creations in the water, two students got into each boat to begin their race heat, which was timed by student volunteers waiting at the other end of the pool. Most boats were successfully paddled by hand across the pool. Once on the other side, weight was added as more students piled into the cardboard creations until they, invariably, sank.

“The success of this type of project depends on the efforts of the students, and with so many boats reaching their destination, I think they rose to the challenge,” said Mr. Peace. “This is a great activity that allows students to apply what they learn in the classroom and have a lot of fun.”

The race drew several parent spectators and three Penn Manor High School assistant principals, who were recruited to help provide paddle power in three boats. The event was made possible with a $2,642 grant from Penn Manor Education Foundation to cover pool rental fees.

As a follow-up, participants had to write a report on their experience and what they’d do differently next time.

Next semester, Mr. Peace is planning an even bigger regatta to include about 140 students enrolled in Physics, Applied Science and Principles of Science classes.

  • Photo of students building cardboard boats