CLC’s old friend Joe Youcha has a passion for boatbuilding, and an equal – if not greater – passion for teaching. Following a hands-on career in carpentry and boatbuilding that included numerous prototypes for CLC in the 1990s and a lengthy stint with the Alexandria Seaport Foundation, a few years back Joe shifted his main focus to the teaching part, using boatbuilding as the primary tool of Building To Teach, a train-the-trainer program he developed for hands-on math instruction.

“Getting kids to work with their hands is so important,” Joe said. “For some people, their brains are actually in their hands.”

Now, kids stuck in front of computer screens all day have a tool for essential hands-on learning with a scale model of a real boat that can be built at home in front of said computer screen to impart a range of mathematical principles with an activity that allows thinking with one’s hands.

“What we’ve found with virtual learning is that it works better over the computer if you’re doing something yourself, with your hands,” Joe explained. “The difference between the engagement you get when you add the model – it’s a totally different game.”

Twenty-odd years ago, Joe and his team at Alexandria designed the 11’8” Bevin’s Skiff, a relatively simple design that could be built in a few days using only basic tools. The handsome little boat quickly became the mainstay of dozens of “family boatbuilding” events from coast to coast, including one especially memorable iteration in 1998 when more than 40 were assembled from CLC-cut kits and launched during the WoodenBoat Show in St. Michaels, Maryland – an event that made the cover of WoodenBoat magazine. Meanwhile, hundreds more were built in garages, schools, and yards across America and in a dozen other countries, too.

Now comes a 1/8 scale model version of Bevin’s Skiff, computer cut at CLC from marine-grade okoume plywood and clear cypress. Joe explained that the boat model kit had to be buildable by kids working individually at home, with negligible risk of injury. The model kit comes together with non-toxic wood or school glue rather than epoxy, using a tool kit made up of a mini hack saw, sanding block and sandpaper, and basic household items and school supplies.

When he started to consider how to adapt the learning by building experience to a smaller, at home project, Joe said, “one of the stumbling blocks was what to do about the tools and materials. Everything needs to be safe because the kids aren’t going to be directly supervised.”

As he did to convert the full-size boat to a desktop scale model, Joe also rescaled the teacher’s guide to the model, although some things are constant. “You can teach an awful lot of math with this,” he said, adding that kids who were left hanging by remote learning, whose grades had fallen radically as a result, have seen dramatic improvement once they were able to incorporate a hands-on experience.

Joe Youcha's Building to Teach website offers free downloads of several teacher’s and student guides and a great 25-part series of short how-to videos that illustrate the building manual for the model, including making an index-card bevel gauge and some effective clothespin clamps. There’s plenty of support on the site, for teachers as well as parents and students, making this a highly accessible project.

Scale Model Bevin’s Skiff Kits are available singly ($29) or in packets of four ($99) or 12 ($264).

For more information on boatbuilding to teach and how it’s used in distance learning, visit the Teaching with Small Boats Alliance Distance Learning Resources page.