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"The project has been so successful some children think that it is more fun than recess!"

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5th grade School teacher discovers a secret weapon


At the Spring Mills elementary School, Highland, MI. there is a dedicated teacher, Phil Schmidlin, who spearheaded a special project where he has had his 5th grade students build real canoes in the classroom for the last four years.

Phil Schmidlin's students build this Sweet Pea in 1997

It proved to be an exceptional program for his students...working together in teams with schedules and goals. Participation by every student enabled them to read plans and feel motivated. They found an opportunity to apply their knowledge and basic academic skills...math/measurement, reading and problem solving that they have developed during their first five years in school

The success of the project was easy to recognize as he watched students self-confidence and self-esteem grow. Many of the students became more organized and self-directed in their approach to learning. The carry over is evident when students begin to improve in other academic areas. Relationships among students in the class became more positive and trusting. Members of class recognize that each person has individual talents that are unique to that person and situation. PRODUCTIVITY within the class is up BEHAVIOR and DISRUPTIONS are DOWN! School is fun and individuals old and young alike learn when they are able to apply their skills in a supportable setting.

Students use hand tools & plans for the canoes designed by Platt Monfort. Schmidlin stumbled on to Monfort’s website (formerly and ordered not one but two different designs! (Sweet Pea and Explorer 14) The boats were built in the classroom without much disruption to the other activities in the room. Phil milled the wood parts at home on his table saw, so the class performed the actual assembly of the boats.

The construction technique is fun and simple utilizing basic skills and ordinary hand tools. Materials are inexpensive and there is no need for elaborate forms, lofting, spiling, planking, sanding and fairing epoxy, etc. associated with other boat building methods. A Geodesic Airolite boat consists of a simple, lightweight wooden framework, braced with triangulated Kevlar roving strands. This tough basket-like frame is then covered with Dacron fabric. This material is similar to sailcloth, except that it is heat shrunk and provides a beautiful smooth hull surface with no darts folds or puckers.

Some students gave up recess to work on the canoe...coming to school early and staying late to get in extra hours. The project has been so successful some children think that it is more fun than recess! This is the 4th year that Schmidlin has conducted his successful courses, building two boats per year.. the principle, Pat Parrish, endorses the project and says "Building canoes is a really nice opportunity for the kids"

The Huron Valley Education foundation grant funded the canoe project..grants were awarded to projects like Schmidlin’s every June. This facilitated the added incentive of possible ownership. Going into the project , the students know that in June, when the boats are completed and the Dacron is sealed with class-approved colors, Mr. Shmidlin draws names out of a hat for two pupils, who will take home canoes.

Spring Mills Elementary School of the Huron Valley School District Highland, MI

Phil's students build this SnowShoe Explorer 14 in 1995.  One of two each year.

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Aladdin Products, Inc. d/b/a
Monfort Associates
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