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Pirates brainstorm.

How to make a simple floating pirate ship model.

Pirate ship brainstorm



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Assessment grid (Foundation and Reception initially).

Science activities - sinking, floating, properties of water, forces and motion (sails).

Problem solving activities - raising the treasure from the seabed.

‘Pirates’ brainstorm

pirates brainstorm 1

How to make a simple floating pirate ship model

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The ship is made from plastic modeling foam which is very lightweight and can be trimmed using scissors. It is just thick enough to accept paper fasteners to hold the foam sides in place. The foam is not completely waterproof but can be made so by covering in a single layer of clingfilm. The pin holes don’t affect it because it is so buoyant that it floats quite high out of the water.

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The mast is a wooden dowel or drinking straw and the sail is made from card.

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It’s great fun to experiment with different design ideas and outlined below is a brainstorm diagram based on a part of the topic web above.

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Pirate ship brainstorm

Ideas and questions linked to possible classroom activities based on the brainstorm

  1. Can our ship carry treasure? How much?
  2. How fast can the ship go? How can we make it go faster?
  3. Does the size of the sail make a difference?
  4. Does the shape of the sail matter?
  5. Can we make the mast taller? What will happen?
  6. What is water? Is sea water the same as tap water?
  7. Why do some things float and others do not?
  8. Which materials were pirate ships made from?
  9. What other materials did pirates use in their ships?
  10. Where do the waves come from?
  11. How far can a pirate ship sail?


Design briefs and problem solving activities

  1. Design and make a pirate ship which is stable in the water and can travel as fast as possible.
  2. Design and make a pirate ship which can carry the most treasure without sinking.
  3. Design and make a steering mechanism for your pirate ship.
  4. Design and make your own pirate flag and picture for the sails.(Think of an original idea).
  5. Design and make a mechanism for hoisting the flag to the top of the mast.
  6. Design and make a mechanism for making the ship travel through the water when there is no wind. You can use an elastic band and other basic craft materials.


Science investigations

  1. Collect a range of objects of varying sizes and made from different materials. Make sure that you are allowed to test them by placing them one at a time in a tank of water and seeing what happens.
  2. Make various shapes from plasticine and try to make something which will float. Then find out what happens when one coin (pennies are best) at a time is placed in the floating shape.
  3. Try carefully placing an egg in a cup of tap water then try an egg in some salt water. Is there any difference?
  4. What is the difference between sea water and tap water? Try leaving the same volumes (10ml) of water and sea water in separate shallow dishes on the windowsill for a few days. What happens? Is anything left in the dishes?

Maths activities

  1. Use a square grid with axes marked 0 to 10 to design your own treasure map of an Island (or the classroom or playground) and plan where to hide the pirate treasure. Write the coordinates for each point of interest on your treasure map and think of a challenge or task for the treasure hunters to do at each special place. How will the hunters know if they’ve found the treasure? Will they have to pick up clues along the way? Write out the rules for your treasure hunt game and give your game a fun and interesting pirate name.
  2. A pirate treasure map shows it is 50 steps (‘heel to toe’) to the place where the treasure is buried but what if the pirate had big feet or little feet? Make some card pirate feet which are 20cm long and some which are 30cm long (flat feet are fine!). Devise a challenge for your classmates in which they have to find the treasure using the card feet to find out how far to walk. You will have to work it out beforehand then set the challenge. You will also have to tell them which direction to travel in and hide the treasure too!
  3. Make a pirate compass and devise a challenge in which there are at least 4 changes in direction for the treasure hunters to make before arriving at the treasure. Make sure you know what a compass ‘rose’ is and which way is North when you try out the challenge! You can also make up clues to find on the way.

Making a magnetic compass and finding ‘North’

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Magnetize an iron nail by repeatedly ‘stroking’ a magnet along it in one direction.

Pierce the nail through a thin piece of cork or foam.

Float the foam and nail compass needle in a bowl of water and observe.

The ‘needle’ lines up with the Earth’s magnetic field and swings round to point North-South (or South-North) depending upon which direction we magnetized it.

The Chinese, Arabs and Vikings are known to have used a compass to navigate.

This Chinese compass is an iron ladle which is finely balanced. It is resting on a brass plate and the handle points North.

A compass can be used to help us navigate. It always points North so we know where East, West and South are in relation to it!

We can use a modified compass to ‘sight’ an object eg. a mountain top and ‘take a bearing’. A bearing is the angle in degrees between North and the object (North is taken as Zero degrees).

This principle can be employed in a classroom or outdoor treasure hunt. The instructions are given as a series of bearings eg. 30 deg,90 deg or 90 deg 10 paces or 10metres.

An interesting classroom activity to get used to bearings and possibly introduce the topic of ‘angles’ is to sit at your desk and take bearings of people and common objects in the classroom. These can then be plotted onto a grid and distances to the objects can be added. This is just like a navigator in a ship or aeroplane ‘plotting their course’.

The next step is to navigate a course around the class visiting several objects on the way before returning home.

Making a navigational compass activity coming soon!

More activities to be added soon I hope.