FORTVILLE — A tropical pool party or a science experiment?

It was a little hard to tell the difference Thursday morning when nearly 300 eighth-graders took part in the 10th annual “Walk on Water” event at Mt. Vernon Middle School.

More than 60 teams tested their flotation devices across the width of the school’s swimming pool, learning lessons in teamwork, problem-solving and Newton’s laws of motion.

But with the Beach Boys’ “Kokomo” playing in the background and the crowd doing the wave in the stands, the atmosphere was definitely lighthearted.

“They all want to get in again, and they all want to push in their teachers that made them do it,” Principal Scott Shipley said.

Since only a handful of teams actually made it across, teacher Stacy Griner emphasized that the event is more about the scientific process than succeeding.

“What I usually hear from students is, ‘Can we do it again?’” Griner said, which is usually music to her ears because she knows that they learned from their mistakes and want to build a better device.

Even though Emme Longman made it across, she and teammate Madelyn Mull were thinking up ways to improve their float, which was two boards tied together with poles for balancing and flower-power duct tape for a decorative touch.

“I tried to use the rudders underneath our project to turn me. It didn’t work very well,” said Longman, who took more than four minutes to make it across the pool, which was one of the longest of any group. Still, when she made it, “it felt like victory.”

“It just felt like everyone was paying attention to me, and it felt good to have everyone cheering me,” she said.

Others sank right away, either because their devices wouldn’t hold their weight or they simply lost their balance.

“I stepped on it kind of funny, and I didn’t expect it to fall over,” said Matthew Thompson, who pulled an all-nighter with his friends to create their float. “I was expecting it to float well.”

Samantha Bennett stepped into a pair of sneakers glued to floating boards and seemed to gain momentum as the crowd cheered her across the pool. But afterward, she said she was nothing but focused.

“It was really fun. I didn’t realize they were cheering on me.”

The fact that the eighth-graders support each other in the project is one of the rewarding aspects of the event, Shipley said. Sure, everyone chuckles when a classmate splashes in the water. But teams also applaud in support when their competitors do well.

The crowd was certainly colorful, with many teams dressed in themes, from boys wearing pink lays to girls wearing “Thing 1” and “Thing 2” T-shirts from Dr. Suess.

Kaylie Demaree dressed as Rosie the Riveter for her group’s World War II-themed float. She made it across, but she made sure to have makeup as a backup plan in case she fell in the water.

The event has become almost a rite of passage for the students, who hear about the event from their older peers and look forward to it all year, Griner said. Even older students think back fondly on their science experiment. Griner said she recently ran into a group of Mt. Vernon High School seniors at a coffee shop who were reminiscing about Walk on Water.

And then there was that one year that the pool was under construction, so they couldn’t have the event. Griner said she still hears from former students, complaining that they couldn’t walk on water.

Griner, who borrowed the idea from a teacher in another school district a decade ago, said it’s easy to tell which students put a lot of work into it and which ones throw together their devices at the last minute. There are a lot of methods on the Internet on how to walk on water, she added, but she’s surprised that many don’t research the subject online. Most come up with ideas on their own.

Griner originally intended the project to be just for her group of science students, but Shipley encouraged all science teachers to work together. At the end of every event, awards are given for grand champion, honorable mention and most spirited.

Griner said she’s amazed every year at how well the students enjoy their project and the spirited atmosphere.

“I never intended for it to be this big,” she said.