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    Science quiz: Will this boat float?

    Seminole High School students build boats from cardboard boxes and then launch them in a cross-pool competition.

    By JULIANNE WU

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 17, 2001


    SEMINOLE -- With a little ingenuity and lots of corrugated cardboard, 32 students from Seminole High School set out to prove Archimedes' principle of buoyancy early Friday.

    Six cardboard boats, carrying two students each, were launched just after dawn in the Seminole Middle School's swimming pool, across from Seminole High. The boats had been designed and built by the students in Heather Judkins' Marine Science II class, an honors class at Seminole High.

    Judkins gave each crew a set of plastic oars to help them on their way.

    With catchy names like Leaky Tiki, Hopeit'llfloat and Priority Sinker, the boats were launched two at a time. They had to be heavy enough to hold a two-person crew and, with the help of clear plastic tape, constructed well enough not to sink.

    Three of the boats made the 82-foot crossing and back. The others, however, fell apart almost immediately, leaving their crews with a quick decision: sink or swim.

    On its maiden voyage, Priority Sinker (so named because one of its two layers consisted of Priority mailboxes) was the first to make it across the pool.

    "We were confident we could do it," said Kyle Harden, 18, of Seminole.

    His teammate, Becky Rove, agreed.

    "We're excited we made it all the way across," the 17-year-old from Seminole said. "It was fun."

    Just then, the occupants of Leaky Tiki, an elaborately designed boat with a (cut-out) port hole, crossed the pool.

    "Hey, want to go another round?" yelled senior Kyle Doughty, 18, to some of his teammates standing on the sidelines. His crewmate, senior Nichole Vega, 17, was a little less enthusiastic. "I was nervous," she said. Another team member, Robert Tevlin, 18, piped up: "She had no confidence in our boat!"

    In the end, Priority Sinker won first place. The team not only got the 100 points for making it from one side of the pool to the other (twice), but they proved theirs was the fastest boat.

    Sharing in the boat's victory was Lynn Leedham, the mother of team member Andy Burke and his grandparents, Jackie and Bob Leedham of Indian Rocks Beach. Lynn Leedham, who owns her own mailing business, was the one who supplied Andy's team with the Priority Mail boxes.

    "Even if we did have to get up early, I just thought it was fun to watch," said Jackie Leedham, while her husband, Bob, snapped pictures.

    Friday's launching was the culmination of a project Judkins proposed to her students a few weeks ago. She got the idea from the Web site of an award-winning physics teacher at Klein Oak High School in Spring, Texas. "I'm a hands-on kind of person and thought this would be a good project, said Judkins."They're getting a lot of different disciplines here," she said.

    That included navigation, oceanography, physics, mathematics, science, reading and writing . . . not to mention teamwork and trust.

    There were only a few rules the students had to follow. First, the two-person crews had to be good swimmers.

    "That was something I made sure of right away," Judkins said. "And several of the kids are on the school's swim team."

    Also, the boats could only be constructed of corrugated cardboard (which the students had to scrounge up) and tape. No extras.

    And the students could use the oars Judkins provided, but not their arms or legs to propel the vessel through the water.

    Judging Friday's event was Vicki Wood, a Seminole High physical education teacher and her early-morning aerobics class. Wood, a certified lifeguard, also was there to prevent any mishaps.

    "This was a great event," said Wood. "It was nice to see kids working together to solve a problem."

    Judkins seemed pleased, too. "I think it went better than expected. It was a lot of fun."

    She said Priority Sinker's crew would be awarded prizes Monday but she wouldn't reveal what they are. "It's a surprise," she said.

    - Julianne Wu can be reached at 445-4221 or by e-mail: wu@sptimes.com

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