Box sled program involves students in different disciplines

Tyce Peterson, Chance Culliton and Joseph Connors sped down the Pole Creek sledding hill on Valentine’s Day as part of Clear Creek Middle School’s annual Box Sled Challenge. The challenge is an interdisciplinary unit for sixth-graders in which students use science, math and language arts skills as they build and race sleds built out of cardboard and duct tape. (Photo by Stephen Dow, Buffalo Bulletin)

BUFFALO — Vocabulary. Spelling. Cardboard?

Yes, you can find all three in Mike Scarlett’s language arts classroom at Clear Creek Middle School. But on this particular February morning, the cardboard is taking over.

There is cardboard covering the floor and leaning against the walls. One poor sixth-grader has to hold up a box to prevent it from falling on top of her.

There are boxes big and small and fat and long. Some pieces of cardboard are adorned with the face of Mickey Mouse and others with the face of Gov. Mark Gordon. The classroom is a virtual minefield of cardboard, and after five minutes, the journalist with size 14 feet realizes his attempt to avoid stepping on a single piece is a task worthy of Sisyphus.

As the journalist attempts to dodge the cardboard, Jeron Sutton, Brady Engling and Marshall Peters have their own mammoth task to consider – how to build a sleek, aerodynamic sled out of nothing but cardboard and duct tape.

They each have their own ideas on how to accomplish this. Jeron thinks that layers of vertical duct tape on the bottom of the sled will have less resistance than horizontal duct tape. Marshall wants a pointed front to increase aerodynamics. Brady wants a thin sled with a heavy front that will propel them down the Pole Creek sledding hill.

They’re all good ideas, according to Scarlett. But the best ideas come from working together.

“I know you all want to build your individual sled,” Scarlett says to his class. “But if you do your job, the sled isn’t just going to be the way you want it. Your sled is going to be a combination of the best ideas of everybody in the group, and your group is going to win because of that.”

The boys eventually settle on Brady’s design with its triangular front and rectangular body. But the other boys are quick to jump in with suggestions for alterations.

“You should use vertical tape instead of horizontal on the bottom,” Jeron says. “And we shouldn’t have an open back because snow could blow in.”

“We should also have some weights in the sled to push us forward,” Marshall says.

One detail in Brady’s original design is staying – the words “Baller Boys” written on the side of the box using duct tape.

“That’s a great name for our team,” Jeron says. “We’re definitely keeping that.”

Sled construction is just the final phase of the Box Sled Challenge, an interdisciplinary unit for sixth-graders in which students design, build and race their own sleds made solely out of cardboard and duct tape.

The project started in math class, where students designed the measurements of their sleds and drew a model on graph paper. Students then took that model to science class, where they learned about friction and types of snow and created their prototype model. In Scarlett’s language arts class on Feb. 12, students gave persuasive speeches on why their team should build their design. Students spent the next two days building their sleds and raced them at Pole Creek on Valentine’s Day. Throughout the unit, students also read and learned about the Iditarod sled race in both literature and social studies.

Scarlett said the unit not only was a lot of fun for students but also showed them how their work in the classroom can yield real-world results.

“This unit really raises the walls between the disciplines and shows students how everything they learn can tie together in the real world,” Scarlett said. “And it is also an opportunity to go up into the mountains and have some fun. Not everybody has the Bighorn Mountains in their backyard. Why not take advantage of it?”