Built to Win

Incorporate Competition

Built To Win Program
USS Constitution Museum, Boston, MA
Design Strategies
Encourage Conversation
Authentic & Distinctive
Fun & Play

Families must work together in this fun and collaborative program to build a ship that meets the criteria of a design challenge.

Program Overview

Choices and sacrifices must be made when building a ship with limited resources. Despite these limited resources, the USS Constitution was designed to outrun and outgun her opponents. Our gallery program, Built to Win, draws on this real historical challenge. Families are tasked with building the nation’s first naval vessel—a frigate. Their ships must:

  • Float and carry 50 pennies (representing 50 cannons)
  • Sail as fast as possible down an inflatable racetrack
  • Be built within a $30.00 budget
  • Be built within a limited time frame of 15 minutes

Through much evaluation and development, we have crafted a fun, intergenerational program that encourages families to work together toward a common goal.


Download the Design Strategies Worksheet to use at your institution.

Design Strategies Worksheet

Program Setup

When designing Built to Win, we knew that the set-up would be crucial to create an environment that fostered the experience we aimed to create.


Each family group builds their ship at work stations: tables that are adjustable to different needs and heights. Though we choose not to set up chairs around these tables, folding chairs are available when necessary. The Shipyard Supplies Shop, where families purchase their building materials, is clipped to the front of a utility cart. Here at ground level, information is easily read and materials are easily examined by children and adults alike.

shipyard supply shop
The shipyard supply shop is set up in front of the shop cart, making materials accessible to multiple family members.

Finally, we provide supplies that invite all ages to participate. Each design kit at our family work stations includes a pair of children’s and adult’s scissors, a subtle hint that all are encouraged to build the ship.

Built to Win program materials
Providing tools for multiple ages- like a pair of scissors for both adults and children- is an easy way to let families know everyone is welcome to participate in the activity.


To encourage teamwork and conversation, our family work stations are positioned so that there is enough space for a family to gather around all sides of the table while building the ship. Similarly, the inflatable racetrack is set-up with plenty of space around all sides so that everyone can gather around to watch the race.

Built to Win program setup
Built to Win is set up in the museum’s courtyard featuring the racetrack (background), family work tables (foreground), and the Shipyard Supply Shop (right). Each station is multi-sided and accessible to all members of the family group. Photo courtesy USS Constitution Museum.


In an effort to create more points of engagement with this content, we set up a reading table with reference books near the entrance to the program courtyard. These books target a variety of ages and reading levels and help create an experience that works for different learning styles.


Program Description

Built to Win lasts about 45 minutes. It begins with a brief welcome and introduction from a facilitator, continues with a 15 minute build-period, and ends when families test the buoyancy and speed of their ship in an inflatable racetrack.

Authentic and Distinctive

Drawing on an authentic historical challenge, Built to Win provides a distinctive experience that is unique to the USS Constitution Museum. This becomes evident through facilitation. The program facilitator uses language and references historic materials that provide the context for the challenge.

Multi-User and Multi-Modal

Facilitators invite all members of the family group to participate in this challenge from the very beginning. They address and make eye-contact with children and adults throughout the program. During the build period, the facilitator moves around the space, praising teamwork when he or she sees the families working together to achieve their goals. Though written instruction does not go as far as to assign roles, the language does encourage intergenerational participation. In the testing period, facilitators split up tasks among family members. All are encouraged to participate by placing pennies on the ship to test buoyancy or manning the fan at the end of the racetrack when it is time to sail.

facilitator inviting members to participate
At the USS Constitution Museum, facilitators are sure to address everyone in the family group, emphasizing that our activities are designed for everyone to participate in together.

Facilitators also recognize there are different ways of participating in the challenge. They encourage this in different ways- perhaps by inviting a disengaged younger sibling to name the ship or design a ship flag as a means to become involved with the process.


The limiting factors of budget and time and a choice in materials create multiple outcomes in Built to Win. While many of the necessary supplies to build a ship are found in kits at each family work station, there are three materials families must purchase at the design shop: hull sides, sails, and supports. The shop contains materials of varying quality and price within each category, and we intentionally set prices so that families cannot buy the “top end” of each with their $30 budgets. This variety in materials promotes creativity and means there will be different ship designs based on what each family prioritizes.

Shipyard Supplies Board



Built to Win is the result of much testing and evaluation. The discussions about our program goals and the effort to apply our design strategies have created a program that encourages conversation within family groups and gives them a space to have fun and play together.

Built to Win program
Testing ships at the racetrack! Each family member is involved in the process.

Encourage Conversation

Because teamwork is a cornerstone of Built to Win, conversations are encouraged in all parts of the program. Providing the space for a family to gather around all sides of a table, instead of just one, creates an environment conducive to conversation. Additionally, the accessibility of materials promotes conversation because it helps make clear that all ages are invited to participate in the work together.

Facilitators praise these conversations as they roam the courtyard area, and instructional text reinforces that families should be working together toward a common goal. Additionally, the variables built into the challenge create a situation in which families must strategize to determine how they will spend their budget and time.

Fun & Play

Collaborative, group challenges are fun for all participants. Our facilitators set this playful tone during the activity through positive language and demeanor. Families leave Built to Win with tangible reminders of the program: their ship and a certificate that congratulates their effort and teamwork. But the intangible takeaways of laughing and learning together are just as important to us educators.

continue the experience