Saturday, June 27, 2009

Around the World in Eighty Days - Unit Study Day 5: Building a Put Put Boat


As we picked up the pace of our reading (we're hoping to complete Around the World in Eighty Days this weekend), we embarked on one last project, that proved to be just about as difficult as making a trip around the world ourselves. Since Phileas Fogg does the majority of his travel by steam train or steam ship (there's no adventure with a hot air balloon in Verne's novel - at least not this one), it seemed only natural to do a little study of steam engines.

The Mid-Continent Train Museum has a pretty good explanation for kids, of how a steam locomotive works. They also have coloring pages, printable crossword puzzles, and a quiz dealing with steam trains at www.midcontinent.org/kids/kids.html. I'm hoping later this summer to hook up with a steam train ride somewhere here in Montana, but it's a big state, and a short summer, so we'll see.

In the meantime, I decided we should try building a toy version of a steam ship. These are often called pop pop, or put put boats. Simple ones can be purchased for under $10.00, but it costs even less (and you lean even more) if you make one yourself (at least that was my thinking as we started our project). For the do-it-yourselfer, there are a couple of different options.

The simple version, used by the Boy Scouts, calls for some flexible copper tubing (see www.sci-toys.com/scitoys/scitoys/thermo/thermo.html#boat). There's a more complicated version at http://www.sciencetoymaker.org/, which uses only drinking straws and a pop can for the engine, and a milk or juice carton for the boat. I know that sounds simple, but there are more than twenty steps involved, and you end up using both a hot glue gun, and epoxy before you're finished.

Still, armed with the promise from The Science Toy Maker, that anyone who could follow simple instructions, could complete the project - we steamed ahead. If you want to make one of these yourself, check out the website for complete instructions, but by way of overview, let me tell the project involves...


cutting up a tin can...










...cutting it and folding it according to a printable template...


...shaping it with straws, which eventually get epoxied in...


...making it air tight with epoxy. Testing for leaks (and then fixing them with more epoxy)...


...building an angle tool with another printable template, to form and hot glue the engine around...


...cutting apart a milk or juice carton...











...stapling, sanding, and hot gluing the boat together...









...hot gluing the engine into place...


...making a candle holder out of tinfoil...


...checking for leaks (ours leaked like a sieve), and adding more hot glue...



...testing the boat.

Our boat did work, and did make the wonderful little put put noise, as promised. The only drawback - other than the long hours of building it, the dangerous epoxy fumes, dealing with sharp sided aluminum, and the burn dangers of hot glue, was that the boat only ran for about five seconds (okay, maybe it was 30 seconds) before the tiny candle was used up, and with no heat to create steam, the boat putted to a halt. Not exactly earth shattering! My advice is watch the Toy Maker's video, and explanation of how the boats are powered, and then shell out the $10 or so, to buy one with a longer lasting oil lamp already in place.


Or, scrap the project entirely, and settle in for a nice game of Whist. Keep the cut up pop can though, it makes a really good object lesson for figuring the surface area of a cylinder.


It's great to be a homeschooler.

1 comment:

Marcee said...

We rode a steam engine train in Sumpter Oregon on our way back home during vacation. The fuel they used was mineral oil! We were also robbed by gang of train robbers!!! A little ways from your place though.