Community Boat Building is an experiential learning program. CBB uses the craft of wooden boat building to get kids excited about learning, and to give kids a hands-on, tangible program that will cross over into their academic learning as well as their social-emotional growth. In teams of five or six, students work as a team to build a wooden boat over the course of a few weeks.

Key Takeaways

  • Breaking big tasks/projects into smaller milestones will make them seem more manageable to students.

  • Allowing kids freedom and room to explore within a project gives them more of a sense of ownership over their work.

  • The real goal is student learning, not the specific outcome of a project or activity.

What strategies are most effective at building students’ confidence in their abilities to complete tasks and projects?

That’s a really critical part of what we do. A boat is a daunting task, and we ask kids to take that on with a spirit of adventure. To build confidence, you have a big project but you work towards small milestones. There are a million small victories that go into building a boat successfully. You put in that screw right, the plank got clamped in the right place. And all of those things require a good deal of focus and a good deal of teamwork for the kids. As they get into the boat building and get accustomed to the tools and the other things that go along with it, we see that confidence really start to grow and the kids will take on a lot more leadership in terms of what needs to be done with the boat to get it ready for the next step in the process. We definitely encourage the kids to explore within the safety parameters of the space, and then provide support when needed so that they’re not losing confidence with a problem that’s too difficult.

What do you find to be the most effective balance between staff engagement and staff allowing students to work and problem-solve for themselves?

I think that’s a very fluid thing, and we rely a lot on the expertise of our teachers. You want to let the kids take the lead and let the kids do the work. One of the first instincts is to fix what the kid is doing wrong so that the boat goes together right. But that’s not really the goal, the goal is to get students to learn. You let them make mistakes, and we can provide advice when mistakes happen and when they hit a roadblock. But letting them do the work, and letting them figure out what’s going to work best for them, is really valuable. It’s a challenge to be able to verbally describe a problem a student is having, and lead them to the answer without giving them the answer, and let them struggle a little bit with that and persevere with it too. We try to interfere as little as possible while making sure that those critical learning milestones are there too.

How do you help students to feel motivated by each others’ successes rather than discouraged?

There’s a big team element to that. That’s a big point of emphasis from day one. You’re accomplishing this as a team, nobody can do it on their own. When your teammate has success, celebrate that. When a teammate struggles, provide assistance when you can. But you never criticize the struggle, that’s someone learning to be successful. In order to have your team be as strong as possible, and to complete your boat as well as possible, you need to help those along that need a little extra time to figure things out. Inevitably, every student struggles at some point. Encouraging an empathetic response to that, “Hey, I’ve been there before too,” is an important element.


We do see differences in skill level. Some kids get it right away, some kids take longer. There are some natural differences in spatial relations, and also in whether or not our kids, who are 10 and 11 years old, have been exposed to tools before. Whether they’ve used a screwdriver or a clamp or something like that. So there are definitely differences, but we’re asking the kids to use that stuff in different ways than they have before regardless, so they all come into it fairly naive about what’s actually going to happen. It helps to level the playing field somewhat, but certainly the kids progress at different speeds.


There are so many pieces of the boat that, despite how accomplished you might be, you simply can’t do on your own. You need another pair of hands, you need another pair of eyes, and so that’s a collaborative learning that doesn’t necessarily correlate with a student’s academic achievement. It involves all parties and benefits all of the students in a similar way, too.

What strategies are most effective at building students’ confidence in their abilities to complete tasks and projects?

I think there’s real benefit to having big, scary goals and then smaller, more achievable goals to reach that. Our kids, in the end, tend to look back and say, “Ok, none of this was really that hard. But the boat is amazing, how did that happen?”It’s just a matter of breaking it down piecemeal for them so that they can have those digestible tidbits. I think also, making sure that we allow kids room to explore and don’t take their voice away by providing very explicit instructions. The kids need a lot of instructions to build a boat, but making them feel that it’s theirs, and that what they’ve accomplished is really something that they’ve done and not something they’ve done at the behest of their teachers giving orders. Those are components that really make the kids buy into what they’re doing and make the kids feel that they’ve accomplished something special.