Program Profile: Community Boat Building Transforms Boston’s Waterfront into a Rich Learning Environment

Offering students boat construction and marine science experiences, Community Boat Building provides students with opportunities to apply mathematics to real world projects and build connections to Boston’s waterfront and maritime industry.

Serving predominantly low income youth of color, a demographic underrepresented in STEM, Community Boat Building uses its hands-on, place based curriculum to bolster students’ engagement in STEM. The program offers access to local, authentic STEM learning environments and projects that allow students to connect more meaningfully with the content they study in school.

“Our mission is to help close the achievement gap in Boston. We use the thing that we are passionate about – building wooden boats – to engage kids in their learning,” says Stockton Reece, Executive Director of Community Boat Building. “Taking the kids out of the school environment and getting them to work on something tangible really helps them view their learning in a different way – it’s exciting, its hands-on, and they can see immediate results.”

Throughout the school year, Community Boat Building transports students in small groups from their classrooms at Young Achievers Math and Science Pilot School and Harvard-Kent Elementary School to the Community Boat Building workshop in Boston’s seaport. At the workshop, students work collaboratively to construct seaworthy wooden rowboats, applying math skills to realize each boat from a set of diagrams and design plans.

“Our students focus on building something tangible and three-dimensional from a two dimensional design while working on their math and their ability to think spatially,” says Reece. “We work really closely with the teachers at our partner schools to make sure that we are meeting the common core standards with lessons that are immediately applicable to what the kids are doing in school.”

Community Boat Building reinforces its boat building program with a water quality testing project in the Fort Point Channel. During this project students row their boats to various points in the channel to place “samplers,” which absorb chemicals in the water. The students form hypotheses about what pollutants might be in the water and test their predictions the following day by analyzing the samplers at Northeastern University’s Marine Science Center.

“The project lends itself to study of a real-world issue, gives students a peak into high-tech scientific inquiry, and offers them an opportunity to advocate on behalf of their city and its waters for a cleaner environment,” says Reece.

Community Boat Building students also complete an oral history project, during which students conduct interviews of Boston’s maritime industry workers, and participate in rowing and sailing lessons. These experiences serve to deepen students’ connection to the waterfront, allow them to take advantage of this rich learning environment, and aid them in developing an understanding of how concepts from school are applied there every day.

“Boston is a maritime city, and our kids can see that but they don’t get much of an opportunity to interact with it,” says Reece. “Our program opens up their world a little bit in that they start to understand that they can be a part of that experience.”