Students design floating shoes in class

Heart Mountain Academy student Sierra Olmstead is guided out into the Cody Rec Center pool by teacher Ben Larsen to test her floating shoes. Larsen challenged his students to create shoes that would allow them to walk on water. (Photo by Amber Peabody, Cody Enterprise)

By Amber Peabody

Cody Enterprise

Via Wyoming News Exchange

CODY — When Heart Mountain Academy science teacher Ben Larsen recently challenged his students to walk on water, they accepted.

On March 1, they put their weeks of hard work to the test, walking across the water at the Rec Center pool.

Two volunteers from each team waded out with the shoes, stepped into them and then ... success.

Students Gavin Strope and Sierra Olmstead each managed to float and move in the shoes.

“I wasn’t worried,” Strope said. “I knew it was going to work and it was very successful.”

Larsen and HMA math teacher Stephanie Gabriel designed the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math project for their classes.

Larsen did something similar years ago while teaching in Montana. More recently he saw that Florida International University School of Architecture holds an annual Walk on Water competition that requires participants to design and construct a floatable shoe that has to be walked across a lake.

Larsen and Gabriel challenged their students to make something similar, with a few weeks to complete the task.

“I gave them a piece of Styrofoam, a roll of duct tape and two garbage bags,” Larsen said.

The students could also pull from a junk pile, which included cardboard boxes and bottles.

“They could put it together any way they wanted,” Larsen said. “Both groups had the same starting point, but each had a different approach to the shoes. One pair was deeper and not as wide, while the other was the opposite.”

The groups ran tests on a small scale but didn’t know if the shoes would float until they got in the water at the Rec Center.

“It was really fun and I enjoyed it a lot,” Olmstead said. “It was team-building and we were problem-solving to fix things as best we could with what we had.”

While Strope volunteered to test the shoes, Olmstead’s team selected her for the task.

“I got thrown under the bus because I’m the lightest on my team so they said I was going to do it,” she said. “I thought I’d be falling any second. Floating was easy. Moving was the hardest part because it was hard to control.”

Strope agreed and added, “It was way difficult to try and keep my legs from spreading out too much.”

HMA Principal Beth Blatt even got in on the action in her street clothes, much to the delight of the students.

“I think more of the others wished they would have tried it too,” Larsen said.

Larsen said Olmstead’s team appeared to have a slightly better shoe design. Because they hooked the shoes together it kept the feet from spreading out and the shoe also was more buoyant.

“Gavin’s shoes didn’t float as well but he had good balance,” Larsen said.

Gabriel said the students did a good job figuring out how much water must be displaced per shoe to hold someone upright.

“I’m proud of how seriously they took it and how well they made the shoes,” she added. “Thank you to the Rec Center for letting us come up and test this.”

The Heart Mountain Academy teachers plan to do more STEM projects in the future, including one this spring.