James Monroe Science

Discover how President Monroe impacted steamboats and our national landscape.

James Monroe

5th President of the United States

Born: April 28th, 1758Died: July 4th, 1831

Contributions to science:

James Monroe was not a scientist himself. However, President’s shape scientific policy and prioritize scientific advances. James Monroe is not well known for his role in the Louisana Purchase, which is surprising due to his role in it’s facilitation. While he was not President during the purchase, his role in buying the land and supporting the Lewis and Clark expedition show support of the geologic, Earth, and exploratory sciences.


In addition, James Monroe was the first President to tour the nation via steamboat, and engineering novelty and scientific advance at the time.

Science projects to celebrate James Monroe

To celebrate science that James Monroe supported we will be making “steamboats” to travel the tub and learn how to read a compass and travel through a local park.

Create a “steamboat” powered by rubberbands

The steamboat was first created 30 years before James Monroe became President, but initial attempts failed due to finances. Early frontier Americans had to resort to making their barges in Kentucky or Tennesee, floating their product down the Mississippi river, then breaking up their barges to sell for lumber in New Orleans, and then walk all the way back home.

The steamboat, one it took hold, allowed travelers to go up rivers, even those with a strong current like the Mississippi. It also paved the way for Presidents to set an agenda of canal building to connect places like Pennsylvania to New York and increase trade. Like any major technological development, the steamboat needed a champion. It found one in President James Monroe who was the first President to travel and tour the United States by steamboat.


In this engineering challenge, we will create our own boat out of straws that are powered by a large rear paddle. The paddle will use rubber band power instead of steam power to make it’s debut.

Project Ingredients:

James Monroe Presidential science engineering challenge straw steamboat supplies

How to make a “steamboat” powered by rubberbands

To make a rubber band powered steamboat you will need a rubber band and some cardboard. In this engineering challenge, we decided to use straws as the base to build the entire boat. Straws are nice because they are cheap, easy to glue together and create air pockets to help the boat float.

Glue your straws together to make your boat. A few things to think about while making your boat are:

  • Are the straws glued together well, or will the boat split in half easily?
  • How can you brace the boat to make it more/less rigid?
  • Where will you attach the rubber band and cardboard paddle?
  • How will the paddle structure stay secure? Will you need to brace it?

James Monroe Presidential science engineering challenge straw steamboat making

James Monroe Presidential science engineering challenge straw steamboat hot gluing the boat together

engineering challenge making a paddle boat from straws to celebrate james monroe

Once you have your boat made, you will want to test that it floats. We did this before engineering our paddle structure on the back. I suggest you do the same since you will need to make significant modifications to your structure if it does not float. This also helps kids learn that engineering is about designing, building, testing, revising, and testing again throughout the process, not just at the end.

After you have tested that your boat will float you can begin engineering the rubber band powered paddle. There is more than one way to do this, so let your kids dream up an idea and try it out. If they get to frustrated that it is not working you can guide them to this method that did generate results.

We braced two straws on the outside of the boat, wrapped a rubber band around them and twisted in the cardboard paddle. As the rubber band naturally unwinds itself it rotates the paddle which then pushes the boat forward!

Engineering Challenge Straw Rubber band boats to celebrate James Monroe

Try orienteering and learn how to use a compass

James Monroe was a key person who organized the Louisiana Purchase and the expedition to investigate the land afterward with Lewis and Clark. While he wasn’t out on the vast American plains, he supported the process and the science. That’s why in this portion of our Presidential science unit on James Monroe we are going to learn how to use a compass to move around a local park.

Project Ingredients:​CompassMap of local area (we did ours in a park)

Try out Orienteering and learn how to use a compass.

A compass is a useful tool, it can help tell you where you are, or it can help tell you where to go. If you are out in the wild, say the new Louisiana territory, and you want to explore, you will need to be able to use a compass to get there.

Watch the video below on how to use a compass, then head to your local park to practice reading, orienting, and exploring in a safe manner.