How can sailing teach math concepts to students? You may be surprised! Basic geometry can be taught in real-life situations by using a boat tiller. Some schools across the United States are working to teach their students in a fun and unusual way. Sailing!

Sailing to Teach MathThrough a program created in 2001 by the Community Boating Center, students from Our Sisters’ School are learning academic subjects through the teaching of sailing basics.

The fall program, which began in mid-September, is a six-week course studying  subjects such as geometry, math, and science through hands-on experiences in sailing. The experience also instills awareness in students of environmental ecosystems.

The goal of the program is for students to gain knowledge they’d usually get in the classroom through “real world experiences,” said Community Boating Center Executive Director Andy Herlihy.

For Our Sisters’ fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth-graders, the focus is “kids having a really good time and making sure they are having fun learning,” said Herlihy.

Our Sisters’ School was founded in 2006 to give middle school-aged girls from lower income, inner-city homes the quality education and life experiences they need to succeed.

This is the first year that Our Sisters’ School is participating in the Community Boating program which fits OSS’s mission perfectly.

During the first week of the program, students did not go out on the water; instead, they familiarized themselves with the sailboat and its integral operating parts. As the program progressed, they went sailing when winds and weather were favorable.

Herlihy was always ready to sub in land activities to teach the students. “One lesson we had was collecting marine debris along the beach,” he said, explaining students were taught “how long it would take for a particular piece of debris to decompose.”

Herlihy and his instructors have also been teaching basic geometry through a sailing maneuver called tacking.

For a recent class, students arrived mid-morning at the CBC already donning their bright blue personal flotation devices.

Program director Jane Pimental and instructor Richard Feeny began the class by demonstrating how turning with a 90-degree tacking angle is much faster than turning a 120-degree angle by using simple protractors and rulers. To calculate speed and distance, Feeny used the example of how to outrun the British naval fleet in the 1700’s.  “Tacking is a critical skill in naval history,” Feeny told the students.

After 20 minutes in the classroom doing an exercise in calculating tacking distances, the students made their way toward the dock across the street where they split up into three teams with an instructor in each boat. Then, they engaged in a friendly race, using what they learned in the classroom. The teachers have a great time using sailing to teach math.

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Sailing to Teach Math