Draggin' Boats

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Learners design, build, and test models of "dragon boats" made from up to three milk cartons. They observe how well the boats can be pulled through water in a homemade testing tank, and explore how changes in the design affect the boat's motion through water. A series of questions are included to help students explain the features of their designs. The lesson has background information about the history of dragon boats, and vocabulary of different parts of a boat. Extensions include calculation of the average velocity of the boat, marking the waterline of loaded and unloaded boats, and seeing the effect of saltwater on floating.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$5 - $10 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 4 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan, Model


Materials List (per group of students)

  • School lunch milk cartons
  • Bleach
  • Paper clips or ornament hangers
  • Scissors
  • Waterproof heavy tape (duct, gaffer’s, etc.)
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Wallpaper water tray (long narrow plastic tub for wetting wallpaper available in paint and décor departments or at home builders supply stores)
  • Drinking straw
  • String
  • Small metal weight (nuts & bolts, old keys, etc.)
  • Screwdriver or other pointed instrument
  • Decorations: permanent markers, yarn, googley eyes, paper, Popsicle sticks, sequins, felt, etc. for dragon’s head and flags (optional)
  • Waterproof glue (optional)
  • Stopwatch or watch with a second hand (optional)
  • Meter stick or yardstick (optional)


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Transportation Engineering
    • Technology
      • Transportation
  • Physical Sciences
    • Motion and Forces
      • Momentum and Velocity
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Volume and Density
  • The Nature of Technology
    • The Design Process
      • Problem Solving

Informal Categories

  • Model Building
  • Sports and Exercise
  • Transportation


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation, 9053625