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The Most Famous Ship in the World

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Author Contact Information

Larry Rose is a teacher at Pleasanton Middle School in Pleasanton, California, and a TEA Associate.  Email : lrose@pleasanton.k12.ca.us.

In the activity entitled FRAM, students in small groups will, in the roles of naval engineer apprentices, attempt to design a ship and build simple models of ships which cannot be crushed by freezing ice. The builder of the Fram used appropriate technology to solve a previously intractable problem. Technological advances used in the Fram show the state of engineering around the turn of the century. The joy of exploration and discovery so strong during the Heroic Age of Polar Exploration (1880-1916) should be part of the wonder of science we all wish to instill in our students.


Students will use higher order thinking skills in an inquiry mode to solve a technical problem. They will use planning and negotiating skills to reach a class consensus on the "Best" way to achieve a parcticular goal. Students will be able to discuss the meteorological and oceanographic conditions which are encountered in polar regions. Students will be able to discuss from a historical perspective the role of ships in polar exploration and science.

Grade Level/Discipline
I use this very popular lesson in my seventh grade earth science classes. It has applications to physical science and engineering classes as well.

National Standards
National Standards UCP1,2,5:: A1,2; B 1,2,3; E 1,2; F 3,5; G 1,2,3.

Pre-activity set-up
Water held in small cake pans, aluminum or steel, will have to be frozen containing your students small model "boats." The boats will be floating and then frozen into the "ice pack".Students can take their models home, or make them at home and use their home freezer and report their results the next day. Using your freezer at school may require that you stagger the activity (Class 1 on Monday, Class 2 on Tuesday and so forth) unless you have lots of freezer space. You will need to freeze several such cake pans for each class section. Table groups can share cake pans as long as their models are relatively small. You will want to provide your classes with materials from which to make their boats.

Different materials from which to make "boats": for example, small polyethylene acid bottles, or wood, or Ivory soap, or clay, or foil boats. You may also want to provide some petroleum jelly to grease the outsides of the boats, or other materials which the students want to try. Cake Pans (students may work at home and use their own. See below.) World Map, best is a polar projection.

Time Frame
At least three class periods including an overnight freezing and time for internet work.

Engagement and Exploration (Student Inquiry Activity
After dividing the class into small table groups, read or recite the following scenario to the class:

You are sitting at your desk in Christiania, Norway, in 1892. You are both an apprentice and secretary to the famous boat builder, Colin Archer. Knocking at the door and then entering is one of the most handsome and distinguished looking gentlemen you have ever seen. Dressed in a three piece dark blue business suit, and carrying his bowler hat in his hand, he is well over six feet tall with steel blue eyes, blond hair and magnificent large walrus moustache. He says to you "Good morning. Mr. Archer is expecting me. I am Fritjof Nansen." (http://www.nobel.se/laureates/peace-1922-bio.html)

Archer, hearing Nansen's voice through the door of his private office, comes quickly out. He says to you, "Stand up, boy! Do you not know who this gentleman is? He is Nansen, conqueror of the Greenland glacier, the first man to ski across Greenland! Stand up and shake his hand, boy. This a true hero, and we're going to build him a boat!"

Nansen and Archer speak privately for over two hours. Leaving, Nansen shakes your hand again and says to Archer,"And you promise she will be finished by next October?"

"Yes", your employer assures him. "Yes, in time for fitting out and sea trials. But are you sure that you want to do this, a three year expedition freezing yourself into the ice of the polar sea? Do you really think you will drift to the North Pole? To the Big Nail?"

"If not we shall certainly have a great adventure," Nansen smilingly replied. " But we depend on your skill, master boat-builder, to make sure we are safe and that no ice can crush us. Good day. I will write to you with more specifications for work areas and quarters for our men and our dogs and other fittings that we require. Until then, Farvel!"

Archer says to you, "I require your help. By tomorrow I want you to design, with the help of my other apprentices, a boat that no ice can crush and that will suit Nansen's needs. Work hard on this. It is a crucial part of your apprenticeship. If you do well... well there shall certainly be rewards for you."

To the students:Think about what this means! Nansen and his crew, in a wooden boat powered by sails and a small steam engine are going to enter the Arctic Ocean (use a world map to help, better if you can use a polar projection map)and then allow themselves to be frozen into the ice for perhaps as long as three years to drift with the ice cap in their home, the ship that you must design. Lives depend on this. Polar research depends on this. The great triumph of polar exploration, being the first to the North Pole, depends on this.

Nansen will name his boat "FRAM" (http://odin.dep.no/ud/nornytt/unn-126.html) meaning "Onward!" in Norwegian.

To the students: We have here materials out of which you can make your models. (Or you can come up with ideas of your own!) They must float and they must resist crushing in these ice pans which we will allow to freeze overnight. Your assignment is to make a model that you believe won't be crushed and see what happens to it as you freeze it.

At this point the teacher may want to discuss the expansion of water as it freezes using as a prompt the bottle of water frozen in the home freezer, or some other example. The teacher might also want to refer to Shackleton's adventure on the "Endurance " in 1914-15 where his ship was frozen in the Weddell Sea in Antarctica and crushed leading to one of the greatest stories of survival by him and his crew ever chronicled.

Provide the materials or let them come up with their own materials, and certainly their own ideas about materials and hull shapes to fulfill the assignment.

After the freezing experiment: Have the class share their experience with their models. Have them negotiate the best hull shape. Did they mark the water levels along the sides of their boats, and along the side of the pan so that they could see what actual changes there were? Did they measure their boats before and after the freezing especially if they used materials of low rigidity, stuff that can be squished?

Of course, resistance to crushing depends on several factors. Have them list the factors they think are important in a class discussion. The factors they might come up with are

Shape of the hull - Fram was round bottomed which made her roll terribly at sea but which caused her to ride up out of the way as the ice crushed in. Rigidity or strength of the structure- Fram was very thickly constructed, the hull being many feet thick of oak with large single-tree oak cross members, braced and counter braced making her extremely strong and rigid. Fram's rudder and screw propeller could be raised out of the way of any crushing ice, and in general she was smooth on the outside which did not allow the ice to "grab" in any parcticular place, so the stresses from the ice were evenly distributed. A little more history- Fram was later improved by Roald Amundsen ( http://odin.dep.no/ud/nornytt/uda-304.html)who used her on his dash to be the first to the South Pole by replacing the steam engine which required a lot of time to start up with new Diesel engines which could be started immediately to take advantage of any leads (open water) which might suddenly have opened, and which could just as quickly close again. Shackleton's ship, an old sealing ship which he renamed the Endurance, was extremely rigid and well made, but was straight-hulled and had many irregularities in design which allowed ice to grab it at certain points. Shackleton did not intend to get frozen in as did Nansen, but he was, and the survival of his crew was a close thing. (Read Endurance by Alfred Lansing).

FRAM became the most famous ship in the world. On Nansen's return (without achieving the pole by the way), he was lionized and given hero's medals by all of the nations of Europe. His feat astounded the minds of all people. Fram was then loaned to Otto Sverdrup (http://odin.dep.no/ud/nornytt/unn-126.html) who used her to explore the possibilities of a Northeast Passage through the Arctic Ocean from Europe to the Pacific. The Fram was next given to Amundsen who would try to repeat Nansen's attempt at the Pole by also freezing into the Arctic pack ice. During the time that Amundsen was preparing for this, Peary reached the North Pole (1909) using dog teams from Greenland. So Amundsen secretly changed his plan and took his men aboard Fram for a "little detour" - to the South Pole! Thus Fram held the record for being the ship that had gone furthest north (with Nansen) and furthest south to the Bay of Whales in the Ross Sea off Antarctica. Amundsen planted the Norwegian Flag and the Fram pennant at the South Pole in 1912.

Explanation (Discussing)

Elaboration (Polar Applications)
Outcomes of the boat model activity: Depending on the materials chosen by the students, their "boats" may or may not have been crushed. Most likely they were not. There is a vertical component to the expansion of freezing water in a pan which can explain a lot of the survivability of your students' boats. Endurance did very well when she was initially frozen in the pack. It was when the ice began to move, crack, refreeze,and pile up in pressure ridges under the influence of the winds and currents in the Weddell Sea that Endurance was finally crushed and sunk.

FRAM survived because of her shape and rigidity. We have already dealt with ideas about shape. How can we design a simple rigid structure for the inside of a wooden boat that will resist great pressure, but which still be relatively light weight?

Part 2

Give each working group (or individual) five index cards and about a meters length of masking tape. With these materials they must design an open structure with walls like a ship which can carry a load of at least one kilogram without crushing. Hold a crush festival with the models made by the students being tasted in front of the class. Find the model which can hold up the most weight (resist the most pressure. (At this point the concept of pressure can be introduced as being force per unit area. In the case of Arctic ships, the pressure is the mostly from the movement of the ice, whereas in your index card models, the force is the force of gravity.) (Rolling into cylinders or fluting the cards gives them great crushing strength. The teacher might want to relate the structures to their strength by doing the measurement and math to determine a measure such as grams per square centimeter of strength.)

Exchange (Students Draw Conclusions)

Evaluation (Assessing Student Performance)
Students complete the worksheet (see below):

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Later, share examples of the student writing with the class and come to a consensus on the survival and reasons for the hardiness of the Fram. N.B. The teacher might mention that Fram is docked and can be visited at the Maritime Museum in Oslo, Norway.

Teacher might observe the work in progress and help along with some of the negotiation. Teacher might require a progress report listing thought processes and a brainstorming sheet with student ideas and later with student trials. Teacher can use the quality of the work on the student handout for evaluation. Teacher might want to have a complete activity entered in the student's portfolio including the work above and perhaps some drawing of the ships trapped in ice. A first person report from the students in the personae of Archer, Nansen, Shackleton etc. would be a good addition to the portfolio document.

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