The Shape of Floatation

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In this activity (on page 2 of the PDF under GPS: Sailboat Design Activity), learners will discover how the shape of an object, not just its weight, determines whether it floats or sinks. After a ball of aluminum foil sinks in a bucket of water, the ball is opened up into a flat sheet that learners will shape into a sided tray or another shape they may come up with, then placed back in the bucket. If it floats, carefully add pennies until it sinks. Relates to the linked video, DragonflyTV GPS: Sailboat Design.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 14

Resource Type:


Materials List (per group of students)

  • a large bucket (5-quart ice cream pail, or even a 5-gallon bucket)
  • aluminum foil, in squares approximately 12 inches on a side
  • some pennies


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Transportation Engineering
    • Technology
      • Transportation
  • Mathematics
    • Geometry
      • Solid Geometry
  • Physical Sciences
    • Motion and Forces
      • Gravity
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Volume and Density
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations
  • The Nature of Technology
    • The Design Process
      • Invention and Innovation

Informal Categories

  • Transportation


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


Source Collection

  • DragonflyTV


  • All rights reserved, Twin Cities Public Television, Inc., 2006

Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation, 515566