Elizabeth Haddon Elementary recently became one of the first schools in the state to participate in The Hovercraft Project, a Florida-based, national initiative to help four to sixth graders build one of the amphibious vehicles in a day.
The effort last month was funded by the school’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) group and had been in the works since the year before.
“We’ve taught this program in many schools and we’ve found that students learn to love to learn,” said Matthew Chase, executive director of The Hovercraft Project. “I believe that learning shouldn’t be confined to just the classroom, but should be part of the student’s approach to life.”
Students worked in teams of six guided by a team leader to construct rideable hovercrafts by using problem solving, math and science skills. Leaders were not allowed to physically help, only tell other team members what to do. Fifth grade teacher Vince Del Duca noted that the teachers also struggled with letting kids figure things out themselves.
“One of the directions they were given is, the leaders weren’t supposed to do any of the actual work, they were supposed to empower their team to come up with ideas, and they were only going to approve the idea at some point,” he said. “And that was hard, to not just want to jump in and start doing it yourself for some students … But eventually they were able to work it out.”
Del Duca noted that Chase – who ran the Haddon Elementary session – suggested good kinds of questions to ask. For instance, instead of telling the students to “take this string and tie it to the marker to make a circle on the paper,” they encouraged the team to think, “What kinds of tools do we have?” and work together to problem solve.
Although it was at times frustrating for the teams and their leaders, Principal Gerry Bissinger and Del Duca expressed that the students really enjoyed the hovercraft process and that it was successful in part because of many opportunities for leadership.
“The kids really had to work as a team,” the teacher observed. “There was a lot of struggle, especially in the beginning of the day, and we (teachers) couldn’t help them. It was very hard for a lot of the teachers to kind of let them work through it without assisting them, … but I think at the end of the day, they were able to accomplish something that was really challenging and it was also really rewarding.
” … They were really proud of themselves, and I think they really learned some valuable lessons on how hard it was to lead, and how hard it is to follow along with the group.”
Bissinger noted that the idea for the project came from a teacher who had emailed him about the project website.
“I thought it looked like an amazing learning experience for the kids, and also I think it tied into one of our district goals on contemporary learning,” Bissinger pointed out. “And it certainly incorporated a lot of contemporary learning skills: collaboration, communication, math, science, engineering.
“Most importantly, I thought the kids would really enjoy the project.”
He said he hoped to bring The Hovercraft Project back next year.