Fifth-graders at Our Lady Star of the Sea School in Atlantic City know exactly what symmetry is, and why it’s important.

“The parts have to be equal or our boat will sink,” said student Sarah Tran as she and classmates worked on a skiff they were building as part of the Building Kids Program at the Bayshore Discovery Center in the Bivalve section of Commercial Township, Cumberland County. The class brought the boat to the New Jersey Education Association Convention on Thursday and Friday to show off the program and promote it to other schools.

Retired Millville school principal Bill Sheridan began building boats with his students at Wood School in Millville about a decade ago as a hands-on way to supplement math lessons and teach the history of the bayshore areas. Rieck Avenue School later joined in as well as schools in Commercial Township, Bridgeton and Upper Deerfield.

Sheridan has been trying to expand the program toward the Jersey Shore, and this year is working with teacher Colleen Griffin at Our Lady Star of the Sea. Students at Cumberland Regional High School will also build a boat, and Sheridan is researching garveys to add something new.

“You do get tired of doing the same boat,” he said.

Participating school districts are asked to fund the approximately $1,000 cost of materials, and all of the instructors are volunteers like Sheridan. The boats can be built during school hours or after school, and the schools have to commit to putting them in the water on Float Your Boat Day in the spring.

“We invite families and make it a real event,” Sheridan said. Our Lady Star of the Sea plans to set sail from Gardner’s Basin in Atlantic City.

Griffin said they spent a couple of weeks before the project began doing boat-based math problems on angles and measurement. She said the project encourages teamwork and problem-solving.

“You could really see the impact of the lessons when they got here and started working on the boat,” she said. “The minute they saw it, the problems made sense.”

Angelo Li, 11, explained how important it is to hold the hammer at the correct angle to the nail so it goes in straight. He explained the acute angle of the front of the boat and how they had to multiply to figure out how many nails they would need.

Two shifts of students attended both days at the convention working on the boat.

“The students from the first day were really disappointed they couldn’t come back today,” Griffin said Friday.

Contact Diane D’Amico:

609-272-7241

More than 30 years’ experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines in Illinois, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey and 1985 winner of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association’s John Murphy Award for copy editing.