Pirates loved science!
In my head, you say this to your kids or your class and everyone rolls their eyes. But, the fact is, life on the high seas wasn’t possible without science; every sailor worth his salt had a pretty decent handle on science, at least as it pertained to sailing.
What do I mean and how can you prove it? You can find out in “Swashbuckling Science”, our latest Milton’s Marvels of Science demonstration, beginning in August. But, if you can’t make it, I have a few activities to help out at home or in the classroom.
Experiment: Pulleys & the Ship’s Rigging
Sailing required the use and knowledge of simple machines like pulleys. Rigging on sailing vessels wasn’t just lashed to a mast; sails were lowered and raised through the use of rope and pulley systems. Even hoisting a Jolly Roger needed a little mechanical know how.
So, how would your student sailors, pollywogs if we’re talking a Navy fleet, fair if a squall at sea wrecked their pulleys? Would they understand them enough to repair them? Give out materials and challenge groups to build a pulley and/or pulley system.
Materials suggestions: ribbon spool, dowel rod, string, duct tape, scissors
Experiment: Take the Wind
Once the pulleys are fixed and sails mended, it’s time to take the wind! But harnessing the wind to power a ship was no simple matter; in fact, it’s physics. For instance, how would a ship keep moving towards its destination if the wind wasn’t blowing in the same direction? The answer isn’t simple: tacking, travelling close to the wind, and Bernoulli’s Principle all factor in.
But, for our most novice sailors, we need to begin at the beginning and that’s figuring out just where the wind is coming from.
For this experiment you need a plastic bag (or one for each person) and a compass (if you want to know the compass direction of the wind). Then, go outside on a windy day and have one student hold up the bag and “catch” the wind with it. Have the student with the compass work out the direction.
Experiment: Sail on!
If everyone is on board, give your groups one last challenge: Build a ship!
Mind you, I mean one that won’t sink and is probably only fit for sailing an ant across a sink full of water. Load up on materials and see who can come up with a ship that 1) Doesn’t sink and that 2) they can attempt to race across a baby pool or other small, controlled body of water.
Material suggestions: bottle corks, cork sheets, clay, straws, toothpicks, wire, bottle caps, craft sticks, juice cartons, and any other odds and ends you have handy!
Now, make sure they use some pirate lingo and you’ve got a pirate day and a half! Match your day with ours and be a pirate for an entire weekend when its all pirates all day at the Clay Center, Saturday, August 9th!