Distance learning students can now learn math by building a model wooden boat, thanks to Building to Teach and Chesapeake Light Craft. Photo: clcboats.com

Distance Learning Made Fun: Boat Model-Building Program

When Joe Youcha created a program for educators to teach math through boat-building projects 11 years ago, it was meant to be hands-on and in person. But in the age of COVID-19, he’s still delivering unique learning experiences through take-home boat-building kits.

Youcha’s Building To Teach (B2T) program trains instructors to teach math through hands-on building projects and exercises. From the start he made training materials and resources accessible online so that he could reach as many instructors—and thus, as many students in classrooms—as possible.

To help keep the hands-on learning going at home during the pandemic, he came up with the Bevin’s Skiff Scale Model, a kit that allows kids (or adults!) to build a 1/8 scale model version of a “handsome little boat” that he helped design some 20 years ago. It only takes a mini hack saw, sanding block and sandpaper, and non-toxic wood or school glue to make it.

“Human beings learn through their hands, and math was taught through ‘hands-on’ or on-the-job tasks for thousands of years,” says Youcha. “And since boats are relevant in almost every community, both full-size and models are great teaching tools for a wide array of math lessons and skills.”

Youcha chose the Bevin’s as his model not only thanks to its simple design and assembly, which would translate well to computer-cutting and remote instruction via video, but also because of how popular the 11’ 8” full-size version has proven to be for “family boatbuilding” events over the years – including when more than 40 were assembled and launched, and later pictured on the cover of WoodenBoat magazine, during the WoodenBoat Show in St. Michaels in 1998.

Chesapeake Light Craft cuts and sells the models. Courtesy photo.

His idea received immediate interest from Chesapeake Light Craft (CLC), an Annapolis-based business that has cut and sold the full-size Bevin’s since the late 1990’s and helped organize past family boatbuilding events. CLC jumped at the opportunity to support B2T by cutting and selling the models.

“It was clear that a model version of the Bevin’s Skiff would be a perfect educational tool to demonstrate the fundamental usefulness of geometry and math, as well as boat carpentry,” says CLC Managing Director John Harris. “Plus, we exist as a resource for amateur boatbuilders and 75 percent of our customers have never built a boat before, so introducing new generations to the joys of wooden boatbuilding is a smart way to create future customers for our boat designs.”

“This is really a joint project between CLC and B2T,” adds Youcha. “CLC has the technology and expertise for designing and manufacturing world class kits, whether they’re full-sized or models, and we know how to develop materials that teach project-based math. Plus we’ve all been friends for the better part of 30 years, so it’s been a natural fit.”

The program is catching on. Harris reports that CLC is only “JUST” keeping up with demand and has shipped 500 models since it began cutting and selling them in September, when the design was finalized and Youcha completed all instructional components.

Kits can be ordered singly ($29) or in packets of four ($99) or 12 ($264).
To learn more about Building to Teach, which provides 1,000 instructors with training and materials that help them teach math to 10,000 students annually, visit buildingtoteach.com.

-Steve Adams