STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Education activities promote the use of cross-disciplinary tools and critical thinking skills in an inquiry and solution-based learning environment. The Mayflower boat building challenge is not only a fun challenge for kids, but it will allow kids to gain new knowledge that they can then apply to problems they encounter in their everyday world.

STEM Education for Kids: Mayflower Boat Building Challenge

STEM Education for Kids: Mayflower Boat Building Challenge

This STEM lesson is designed for kids in 3rd-5th grades. The boat building challenge can be completed individually, with partners, or in teams.

The challenge can also be modified for use with older students by increasing the weight limit for the constructed boats, allowing additional supplies, or by requiring the boats to move through the water in some manner. The challenge can also be completed with younger kids, although an adult will need to guide the kids through the inquiry. The construction may be too difficult for younger kids to do independently; after brainstorming suggestions from the group, an adult can help construct the boat and allow the children to test the completed design. All kids will ask questions about how to complete the construction of the boats. Guide the kids with open-ended questions in order to allow them to formulate ideas and solutions on their own.

STEM Skills Presented:

Science: Kids will use skills within the scientific method as they plan and construct the boats and test the constructions to see if they can float and hold weight.

Technology: Kids will extend and/or document learning through use of technology.

Engineering: Students will plan and construct a boat that exhibits early attempts at engineering from simple supplies.

Math: Kids will use lines, shapes, patterns, and explore mathematical relationships as they plan, construct, test, and improve the engineered boats.

Background Information for Parents and Teachers:
Christopher Jones and his business partners bought the Mayflower in 1608. The Mayflower was supposed to take the Pilgrims to America in 1620 along with a ship called the Speedwell. The Speedwell could not make the trip as the ship was leaking and repairs were unsuccessful. The Mayflower sailed alone on September 16th with all cargo and passengers from the disabled ship. The trip across the Atlantic took 66 days until Cape Cod was sighted in America. Originally the Pilgrims wished to head south, but bad weather forced them to turn around and anchor the ship in what is now known as Provincetown Harbor.

Mayflower Boat Building STEM Challenge

Materials allowed:

  • 10 Wikki Stix (any colors)
  • 10 Craft (Popsicle) Sticks
  • 5 Sticky Notes
  • 5 Pony Beads
  • 5 Toothpicks
  • Aluminum Foil
  • One challenge directions per student or team – print here. (download pdf file of challenge directions)

Information for Kids: The Mayflower sailed to America in 1620. The boat traveled across the Atlantic Ocean with 102 passengers, cargo, and crew. Originally another ship, the Speedwell, was intended to sail along with the Mayflower. The Speedwell was leaking and her passengers and cargo were transferred to the Mayflower. The construction of the Mayflower had to withstand the fierce weather on the ocean, but also carry the weight from the additional passengers and cargo.

Directions: Your challenge is to plan, design, and create a boat that can float and hold weight using only the supplies below. You do not have to use all the supplies, but no additional supplies will be given. The students should have access to scissors for the challenge. The boat must float in the water and be able to withstand the additional weight of 5 pennies. The time limit for planning and construction is 25 minutes. When the time is up, test your boat to see if it floats and can hold the weight of the coins without sinking. Improvements can be made after the initial testing, if desired or needed. Follow the STEPS for STEM SUCCESS as outlined below.

Extension: invite the kids to see how many additional pennies the boat can hold. Graph the total number of pennies each boat takes on before sinking.
Insert Mayflower STEM Success photo here

STEPS to STEM SUCCESSdownload the pdf file Mayflower Steps for STEM Success here

Print the Mayflower Boats Steps for STEM Success for each student or team. By following the outline, students will be able to organize thoughts and plan for a successful challenge.


One 4th grade partner team constructed the H-shaped boat on the right. The kids used craft sticks wrapped with Wikki Stix as the base for the boat. The base was covered in aluminum foil to prevent the boat from taking on water. The kids managed to get 4 pennies on the boat before it began to sink. They went “back to the drawing board” for an overall design change.

The improved construction was successful even though the kids were a little unsure as they put it in the water. All 5 pennies went on and the ship stayed afloat! To see the faces of kids building, creating, improving, and gaining knowledge through active participation in learning is exciting!

A 5th grade student designed his Mayflower from a narrow craft stick base that was secured with Wikki Stix and then wrapped in aluminum foil.

The narrow base for the boat did not support the weight of the 5 pennies and it sunk. The student improved the base of the boat for a successful completion to the challenge.

Using Technology to Document and Enhance Learning
Students can use technology in a variety of ways to extend and/or document learning in the lesson. Some suggestions might include:

  • Invite the kids to take photos of their final constructions. Have kids print the photos and compile a class book to share with family and friends. The kids might also video the testing phase of the challenge. By playing back the video, kids can learn about successes and failures to improve the designs.
  • Have the kids search online for more history about the Mayflower, crew, and passengers. A good place to begin is here:
  • Invite the kids to search online for photos of the Mayflower. Show the kids how to find the webpage where the photos originated.

Challenge Wrap-Up:
Print the challenge response questions (here) link the Mayflower Response questions pdf) for each student or team. Come together and invite the kids to share individual responses to the challenge.

The Mayflower STEM boat building challenge is just one of many STEM and STEAM activities that can used to promote inquiry and solution-based learning at home or in the classroom. For additional activities to help kids gain important problem solving and critical thinking skills, please see the FREE Lesson Plans here at Wikki Stix:

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Mayflower Success

One 4th grade partner team constructed the H-shaped boat above.

One 4th grade partner team constructed the H-shaped boat above.

4th grade improved Mayflower Boat Construction

4th grade improved Mayflower Boat construction

5th grade initial Mayflower boat construction

5th grade initial Mayflower boat construction

Wikki Stix wrapped Boat base construction

Wikki Stix wrapped Boat base construction

5th grade Improved Mayflower Boat Construction

5th grade improved Mayflower boat construction

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