Learn how to make an aluminum foil boat that floats with this STEAM challenge that explores gravity and buoyancy!
Can you build a boat that will float and hold the most mass?
We love a good floating boat challenge at our house and aluminum foil boat experiment doesn’t disappoint! My girls are very tangible learners and I love that I can demonstrate complex concepts in a way that they just get it.
This buoyancy project is a great way for kids 5-12 to learn how to make a foil boat!
What is buoyancy?
Partially fill your bucket with water and place an empty plastic water bottle in your bucket. Push down on the water bottle. What do you feel?
When you push down the bottle, it displaces some water, which pushed back on the bottles. As more water is displaced, the upward push of the water on an object gets bigger.
The more water that is displaced, the more force pushing it, which means that the bottle floats better.
This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, Our Family Code earns from qualifying purchases. Please see our Disclosure Policy for more details.
Why STEAM Activities?
STEAM is the abbreviation for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math.
STEAM, like STEM, is an integrated approach to learning that encourages learners to make connections between the concepts they are learning and how they apply them to real-world problems.
STEAM helps students ask questions, problem solve, think creatively, and produce innovative solutions. Many schools have adopted STEAM learning activities into their curriculum, but it’s never too early to start building critical thinking skills.
We love to learn through play at our house and have a blast doing activities for toddlers all the way to tweens!
Looking for some more hands-on activities that incorporate Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM)? Then you have to check out STEAM Kids!
This book features more than 50 hands-on activities that are organized into easy to implement categories, so you know exactly what concepts your kids are learning!
Grab your copy from Amazon today or get instant access to this great book by purchasing a downloadable PDF!
Key Tin Foil Boat Activity Terms
Buoyancy – an upward force exerted by fluid on an object
Displacement – when fluid is moved out of the way by the weight of an object placed in the fluid
Floatation – a principle that occurs when a floating object displaces a weight of fluid equal its own weight
Mass – the amount of matter that is contained by an object
Weight – the downward force caused by gravity on an object
Density – a property of a substance that is equal to its mass divided by its volume
Gravity – downward force on an object
Aluminum Foil Boat Experiment Materials
- Bucket/Sink/Plastic Tub
- 25-30 Pennies
- Aluminum foil
- Design Your Boat Workbook (grab this freebie at the end of the post!)
Whatever Floats Your Boat Buoyancy STEAM Challenge
Can you build a boat that will float on water and carry the most mass?
The rules of this aluminum foil boat challenge are that the boat must be able to float, it cannot be wider or longer than 6 inches, and each penny added to the boat must hold for at least 15 seconds before another penny is added.
Brainstorm qualities that make a ship float. Revisit the water bottle buoyancy demonstration if you need to.
Place a flat piece of aluminum foil into your water. Put some pennies into the water. Try to set pennies on a flat piece of aluminum foil. What happens to your foil?
What are some qualities that make a ship float?
Place a flat piece of aluminum foil into your water. Put some pennies into the water. Try to set pennies on a flat piece of aluminum foil. What happens?
Should your boat be a platform (like a raft) or an open boat (like a canoe)?
Draw a diagram. Make lists of steps and materials. Cut a piece of aluminum foil that is 12 inches by 18 inches.
Brainstorm ideas for your tin foil boat. Design your boat using your design worksheet.
Use your illustration to build your boat. Measure the length of your boat and then use a balance scale to record the mass of your boat in pennies.
What is the mass of your boat in pennies? How many pennies do you think your boat will hold? Why?
What works? Is there something that doesn’t work? What could work better? Modify your design to make it better. Test it out!
Tips to Redesign & Improve Your Boat
Running into problems with your boat? Here are some tips!
1. If your boat is taking on water, make sure that the weight is distributed evenly across the bottom of your boat. Make sure to place your pennies in the lowest part of your boat.
2. You can increase the buoyancy of your boat by making your boat wider with high sides if your boat isn’t floating well.
3. If your boat can’t support a lot of pennies, try to increase its buoyancy by increasing its size and depth.
FAQs about this Aluminum Foil Boat Activity
What is buoyancy?
Buoyancy is the upward force exerted by fluid on an object.
What is displacement?
Displacement occurs when fluid is moved out of the way by the weight of an object placed in the fluid.
What is floatation?
Floatation is a principle that occurs when a floating object displaces a weight of fluid equal to its own weight.
What is mass?
Mass is the amount of matter that is contained by an object.
What is weight?
Weight is the downward force caused by gravity on an object.
What is density?
Density is a property of a substance that is equal to its mass divided by its volume.
What is gravity?
Gravity is the downward force on an object.
Want to connect this activity with other STEAM buckets?
Check out these STEAM extension ideas!
Talk about the physical properties of your aluminum foil boat and pennies. Try the boat experiment with different materials like straws and cups and discuss the difference in the properties of the materials.
Build a homemade balance scale (a type of lever) to measure the mass of your boat.
Using a ruler to measure your aluminum foil as well as using a balance scale to calculate mass with non-standard units are great math concepts to include in this activity! While you can make a boat that floats and add some pennies to it, adding in the math brings your boat challenge full circle!
You can also add more math to this activity by using nonstandard units like paper clips or unifix cubes to measure the length of your aluminum foil and boat and creating a bar graph using your data from the challenge.
Some Books to Read with Your Activity
We love incorporating books into our activities. Here are some great books about engineering to read with your activity!
- Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty
- Mistakes That Worked: 40 Familiar Inventions & How They Came to Be by Charlotte Foltz Jones
- Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty
- The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
- What Do You Do With an Idea? by Kobi Yamada
31 Days of Low-Prep STEAM Activities for Kids
This activity is part of our 31 Days of Low-Prep STEAM Activities for Kids. Every activity focuses on each of the buckets of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, & Math) although these integrated projects fit in more than one bucket.
You and your kiddos are going to love all of the activities that we have in store! Visit the 31 Days of Low-Prep STEAM Activity hub and pin it, so you can come back and visit it daily!
PIN THIS IMAGE TO SHARE THIS LOW-PREP STEAM ACTIVITY!
Meet Toni, the Maker Mom behind Our Family Code
Hey there, I’m Toni! I’m a software engineer and Maker Mom that finds my joy in unleashing my children’s curiosity by exploring STEAM concepts with my fantastic five!
When I’m not chasing toddlers or raising tweens, you can find me tearing things up and putting them back together over here at Our Family Code.
I am the owner and content creator of multiple educational websites designed to increase access to STEAM & STEM education with a focus on teaching computer science and coding to kids of all ages!
You can also find out more about me by visiting ToniGardner.com!