Great Steamboat Race

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In this outdoor activity, learners race small boats, made of cork, balsa wood, popsicle sticks etc., to investigate the rate and direction of currents in a stream or creek. Learners will examine what variables such as water volume, slope of the stream bed, and obstacles such as rocks determine the rate and direction of a stream's flow. To expand learners' investigations of stream life, this activity can be combined with the What Lives Here and Hold It! activities from the same source.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$10 - $20 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Field Trip, Game, Lesson/Lesson Plan


Materials List (per group of students)

  • boats made of small pieces of cork, twigs or light wood
  • long, thin sticks
  • 110-cm lengths of light monofilament fishing line
  • large-headed pins or thumbtacks
  • stopwatches or watches with second hand
  • paper
  • pencils
  • waterproof marking pens
  • flagging strips
  • window screen material or mosquito netting
  • tack, nails or staples
  • observation trays
  • meter stick
  • 2 poles
  • pieces of cork


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Structure
      • Oceans and Water
  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Transportation Engineering
  • Life Sciences
    • Ecology
      • Biodiversity
  • Mathematics
    • Data Analysis and Probability
      • Data Analysis
      • Data Collection
    • Measurement
      • Rate
  • Physical Sciences
    • Motion and Forces
      • Momentum and Velocity
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Asking Questions
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data
      • Formulating Explanations
      • Communicating Results
  • The Nature of Technology
    • The Design Process
      • Invention and Innovation

Informal Categories

  • Games
  • Nature and Environment
  • Outdoor Activity
  • Physical Activity
  • Transportation


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • read
  • be mobile
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



  • All rights reserved, The Regents of the University of California, 1981