Halfway between Swampscott and Gloucester on the Massachusetts North Shore is Brookwood, a private school serving students from pre-kindergarten to the eighth grade. Located in an area with a rich maritime history, it was, perhaps, inevitable that boatbuilding would work its way into the school’s curriculum. The idea had been floating around the school’s faculty for a few years and when one of the school’s classrooms was scheduled to be vacant during the 2015/2016 school year, the space was available for a workshop.
Sven Holch and his fellow fourth- and fifth-grade teachers took the opportunity to introduce 90 students to “design thinking and project-based learning” under the guise of hands-on boatbuilding. The students were divided into nine “watches” with maritime names like Stellwagen, after the Stellwagen Bank fishing grounds. Every week, each watch would gather in the Boatyard, as the classroom had been named, ready to do some boatbuilding.
The design chosen for the build was the 9′ canvas-on-frame double-ended tender designed and built by Ned MacIntosh back in the 1940s when he and his wife were living aboard their Atkin cutter STAR CREST in Panamanian waters. The boat caught on among other cruisers, especially after Ned added a sailing rig. Soon there was a fleet of about 20 of them. When STAR CREST returned home to New Hampshire Ned made more of these lightweight tenders. Maynard Bray, an author of many books on boatbuilding and a frequent contributor to WoodenBoat, saw the tender, took a liking to it, and measured one of them to create drawings to work from to build one for himself. His plans were the starting point for the Brookwood project.
Boatbuilding was new territory not only for the students but also for some of the teachers who participated in the project. “We’re all starting from ground zero,” said Sven. “Building a boat together is the perfect place to practice not knowing anything. We’re using the boatbuilding project as a way to teach about learning styles—metacognition. The kids can think about their thinking at this age.”
From the very beginning, the students kept journals documenting their progress:
“Today I learned about a stern. At first I thought that it was the front of the boat but I learned that it was the back of a boat.”
“Today I also built replicas of the boat. They were nine inches. We had to scarf the stringers. We had to cover it with paper. And use popsicle sticks to make seats.”
The hands-on project gave student real-world connections to academic studies. “The math, science and classic STEM curricula tie to the project in numerous ways,” Sven noted, “including but not limited to displacement, angles, scale, joinery, characteristics of water, measurement and more.”
The boat was launched on Cutler Pond, situated between the school and its soccer fields, and christened MSS BROOKWOOD in a ceremony led by Head of School Laura Caron, made Admiral of the fleet for the occasion. The MSS stands for Middle School Ship. Students took turns rowing around a duck-sized schoolhouse—complete with a Brookwood-style cupola—that floats in the middle of the pond. Rowing became the next learning opportunity after the boatbuilding.
Since its launching, MSS BROOKWOOD continues to rule the pond unchallenged and hasn’t leaked a drop.