Sand Yachts

A place to document our sand yacht progress…

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Was our Science Project a Success?


It wasn’t all about Race Day of course. The project provided challenges for children in all four schools across a whole term. This was something that children of different ages could really immerse themselves in over time. Ongoing feedback from parents told us that children’s enthusiasm was high at home. For example: one girl, who’d never shown much interest in science before, became animated and excited when discussing the progress of her team’s yacht, we were told. She kept requesting that particular lids and so on be saved for wheels or other components. Another child, I was told by a pleased mum, had ‘suddenly’ decided he really liked school after all and couldn’t wait to come in to work on the project.


Monitoring took place through regular filmed interviews with selected children from different age groups and, from this, we were able to tell that children were progressing in their learning and acquiring new skills, such as sail control. One boy told the camera how he needed to use a ‘stopper’ to improve his sail so it didn’t just ‘spin round and round’ uselessly.



At Exeter Road, an exciting trials day was held during which all the yachts created in the different classes could be tested in competition with each another. We were visited by a judge from the British Science Association who awarded us, on the strength of this event alone, a £200 regional runner-up prize, which we were delighted to receive! At the end of the trials event, all the children were given anonymous feedback forms (only giving their age) and from this we gained an oversight of how children were experiencing the project. Here are some of the things we learned:

How children describe the event:

‘Fun’, ‘interesting’, ‘exciting’ and ‘surprising’ were the words most chosen.

Had children learned anything new?

83% considered they were learning something new.

How interested are children in science, technology, maths and engineering?

Of the 91% of children who were positive about the STEM subjects, 54% gave the maximum mark: ten out of ten!

Had the activity helped change their interest in the STEM subjects?

68% said they were more interested.

In the future, would they like to do a job that uses science or engineering?

Although we still have work to do in this respect (as 22% said ‘no’ and 48% said ‘maybe’), it was pleasing to see that out of the 30% that said ‘yes’ almost half were girls.

How does this type of activity compare to what they normally do in school?

67% said it was ‘better’ and 30% said ‘the same’.

What was the best thing about the sand yacht trials event?

‘Making’, ‘designing’, ‘testing’ and ‘racing’ were the words that came up most often (along with ‘decorating’ of course!) and here are a few example comments:

My faviroit thing was making the sails…

Making sand yacht and working together as a team…

It was fun making the sand yacht because it was challenging who made the best…

making them and exsperimenting…

working as a group and lerning about friction…

Testing our sand yachts Against Other year groups…

Working with my friends to build a sand yacht…

Working together to make our Sand Yacht and tessting them against Y6…

Where we go from here…

The legacy of the project will be that we will continue to meet and work together as the four Science Subject Leaders in the Avocet Learning Trust. Rodney Battey, our STEM Ambassador, will continue to work in four schools (rather than one) and we have in mind a science club that he will run alongside us for gifted and talented children from each of the schools. Another idea for the future is a regular challenge or competition, although this might have to be on a smaller scale and involve a single year group across the trust. There is of course pressing work to do regarding the new curriculum. We will support one another in this and share resources. Also, we hope to try some teaching in one another’s classes/schools; filming the results, comparing findings and sharing ideas. The Rolls-Royce Science Prize gave us a great chance to get together and pool our expertise, and it also proved to be the first such collaboration in the new trust. We’ve shown what can be achieved when we work together and, in the process, given the children some amazing memories and learning experiences. Here’s to our future engineers!

Robin James






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April diary

Race Day Arrives: Sand Yachts Are Go!


But would the weather hold…? When the team arrived at the RNLI boathouse, the wind was certainly blustery enough for racing sand yachts. The strings of bunting we’d brought to mark off the course area and decorate the rails along the lifeboat slipway flapped promisingly. What a privilege to have use of the brand-new boathouse for the whole day!




The RNLI had cleared out the lifeboat and the rather expensive trailer for its new waterjet-powered Shannon class boat, due to arrive later this year, in order to accommodate us. This added a certain drama to the scene. It reminded me of a scene from a favourite childhood programme: Thunderbirds! And helping us to sweep the beach (as well as standing by with a seriously powerful fan) was a team of local fire-fighters.

An excited buzz signalled the arrival of the children. Three schools came by coach and the nearest to the beach, Exeter Road, came on foot – representatives of every age from 5 to 6 heading happily along the seafront. So far so good with the weather. The predicted rain was holding off. In fact, even the weather was adding to the drama with shafts of sunlight breaking through the silver cloud. (Appropriate really, for a Rolls-Royce day)!




I knew everything was going be alright the moment I saw the sand yachts. They looked amazing – so many different designs and innovative ways to ‘re-purpose’ otherwise discardable materials: pram wheels, cardboard tubes and boxes, bamboo poles, silver foil roasting tins, catering-size baked bean cans, carrier bags, sweet tubs, biscuit boxes, knitting needles, reels and spools… you name it! Clever, creative solutions had clearly been found to what had been a tricky problem: how to source enough material for hundreds of children to try their hands at sand yacht making. Fortunately, plenty of professional sail cloth had been donated to us by James Longmuir at Bainbridge International Ltd.



The children who came to the race day had gone a step beyond simply making a sand yacht, however. (Not that making a sand yacht is all that simple)! They had tested and improved their yacht designs. They knew that their yachts would work. There had been various trials and even (at Marpool) a Science Saturday to which parents, grandparents and other members of the school community had been invited. Most of the yachts had names: Lightning Bolt, The Sand Skimmer and Gerald Zoom – that was my particular, quirky favourite. There was an eager, enthusiastic team behind each one. And waiting, stalwart as ever, on the Maintenance Table, was our man from STEM – Rodney Battey – encouraging the children to overcome any technical mishaps or malfunctions.

And that was the greatest triumph of the day for me: to see children who were not about to give up, whose resilience had grown, who weren’t put off by unexpected setbacks along the way. Although it was also extremely pleasing to see a team of Year Five girls from my own school pick up a couple of prizes!

And what about the weather? Well, as I returned to the boathouse in my campervan to collect and return the last remaining sand yachts, it proved the weather forecasters right and absolutely bucketed down! Too late for us though. We’d had our fun already!

Robin James



What the headteachers had to say about the project…

All of the children at Exeter Road, from the Reception class to Year 6, were involved in the Sand Yacht project. Not only did the project provide many opportunities for children to develop a practical understanding of how engineering and science is used to solve problems but it also provided a great deal of fun for pupils and school staff alike. Learning together as a whole school and being assisted by a range of experts, has had a huge impact on the attitude that the children have towards science, making it ‘come alive’ for them. The impact of the project has also filtered out in the wider community of the school with parents and families taking and interest and getting involved in science.
Paul Gosling, Headteacher of Exeter Road Community Primary School

Being part of the Sand Yacht project has been incredible. At Bassetts, what we have learnt for the future is the power of collaborative working in raising the children’s inquisitiveness and design skills. Working in pairs, then as a class but also learning alongside other schools, gave the children many more opportunities to question, explore, refine and be inspired. For us the scale of the project enabled us to use science and maths but particular progress was made with design and engineering. In the longer term, we wish to encapsulate this and ensure all our children have the time, stimulus and materials to continue to develop the engineering aspect of design and science.
Sarah Bennett, Headteacher of Bassetts Farm Primary School

At Marpool the creative and entrepreneurial skills of our youngest pupils amazed us. Their ability to grasp some of the simple design concepts of engineering and use and apply them in a real life situation was fantastic. Learning partnerships were formed between school and home and a healthy challenge of striving to achieve the best amongst others was forged. My sand yacht will be bigger, faster, stronger and better!
Rachel Pattison, Headteacher of Marpool Primary School

The Sand Yachts gave a context for the Science lessons. Because the children saw the link between the science/testing/investigating that they carried out and the design process, they were highly motivated. They wanted their design to succeed. This led to them working really well as a team and it really improved this aspect of their working. This link to real life situations is something which we could develop in the future. The other big benefit was the ability to share ideas and expertise between schools.
Jonathan Galling, Headteacher of Brixington Primary School




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Year 3 girl, Exeter Road

What I remember from the setting sail theme.


We kicked off the setting sail term when we visited Sir Francis drakes house. His house was gigantic. First we dressed up while the other group was looking around. We curtseyed at the boys and they bowed to us. Then we had a look around. I smelled a pot of urine. Urine is wee. Mr James gave me a nice plant to smell after. I forget what it was called. (Rosemary, Ed.)

We went into a big hall and after that we went into a gift shop. I bought a blue caterpillar.

Angela and Ruby

We walked to Phear Park to test our kites. I fell over three times. I was all muddy. We ran down a giant hill. We made the pirate kites out of 12 straws and black and white bin-bags. The white bin-bag smelled of perfume.

Ruby with Angela

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Year 3 boy, Exeter Road

What I remember about the setting sail theme.


At assembly the Rotary club came to tell us about kites and then we made some.

Paper aeroplanes
Mr.James told us about the paper aeroplane competition. We made paper aeroplanes to test them. Then we had a competition.

Tumble wings
We had a piece of paper from a phone book. And we cut out a piece of paper to make a big mouth tumble wing.

Buckland Abbey
At Buckland Abbey we had a snack to eat. And we watched a film of Sir Francis Drake.

Fun with forces morning
When we heard a bell ring we started. We had to go to classes. We done lots of stuff.

Testing sand yachts
We made our sand yachts. Then we were testing them.

Writing instructions for kites
When we made kites we flew them in the park on the grass. It was awesome.

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Year 3 girl, Exeter Road

What I remember most about the setting sail theme.

Emily, Ruby, Micsha

I enjoyed racing my sand yacht in the playground. Everyone had a team. My partner is Ruby. We had headlights. We used Material D, rubber wheels, rigging and a bamboo stick for the mast and a trifle pot was for the mast step.

When I went to Buckland Abbey we got there in a coach. Sir Francis Drake lived in Plymouth. The first group was dressing up. The other group looked at Sir Francis Drakes house then we swapped.

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Year 3 boy, Exeter Road

What I remember from the setting sail theme

Matthew in the middle

We made really good sand yachts and raced them and it was good. We were in pairs and I was with Jake.

We made paper planes and I liked making and flying paper planes. We raced the paper planes in the hall but I didn’t win so I didn’t race in the paper plane competition in the hall.

We made cool paper boats and Adriana showed us how to make the cool paper boats and then we raced them on some water and mine got wet and it had a hole in it.