Some educators say children learn better by doing. That is exactly what inspired a former science and math elementary school teacher, Matthew Chase, to develop "The Hovercraft Project." He was standing in front of his fifth-grade classroom in Illinois when he flipped to page 127 of a science textbook and thought, "Man, this is so boring!" says Chase, now executive director at Chase Educational Consulting.
Chase realized that he wanted to change his class atmosphere. Wanting to engage his students and make learning more fun, he asked his class to apply what they learned in the classroom and create a project with the help of the internet as a homework assignment. One of the projects that a student made was a hovercraft, built out of plywood and styrofoam. This simple project has been developed over the past 14 years to become The Hovercraft Project.
"I could've done anything small that keeps kids in their seats, but that's not my personality. When I went to school I wanted something big that would be fun, interesting, that had an element of danger to it. This project basically met all the requirements if I were a fifth-grader," says Chase on why he picked the hovercraft.
The Hovercraft Project is a nonprofit initiative that Chase started in 2013; the project currently provides an interactive STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) project to fifth- and sixth-graders in about 20 schools a year in the United States, and he is planning to extend it worldwide, likely to Australia next.
"There is so much more than hands-on learning; this was minds-on learning. They were thinking and problem-solving; those are real-world skills," says Jim Heffner, principal at North Brook Elementary School in North Carolina, which participated in the program on March 16.
One school can participate in the event at a time as Chase personally administers each one. Students are divided up into 16 groups of six to eight students; the company currently only provides 16 hovercrafts. Each student is given a different job, and there are 11 jobs that have to be completed in order to fully construct the hovercraft, including an artist, a data analyzer, safety officer team leader and others. These roles help students engage in activities related to a number of subjects, such as English, mathematics, science and arts.
"It was cross-curriculum; you had math, you had science, you had a writing component. It was everything in a nutshell," says Toni Sain, a fifth-grade teacher at North Brook Elementary School.