Learning takes off

Students launch rockets in aerodynamics study

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There was nothing Maybell Elementary School students thought was "uncool" about launching rockets.

When the missiles exploded in a cloud of smoke and shot off into the clouds, it was "awesome."

When they went end over end into the air and separated without the parachute opening, that too was "cool."

To the students, it was a day of fun.

To teacher Kenneth Olinger, it was a lesson better absorbed because the youths enjoyed every step of the process.

"It's good hands-on experience," he said.

Wednesday's rocket-launching activities were the pinnacle of a two-week lesson on flight and space -- and the history of both.

"It's a good way to get kids interested in the history part," Olinger said.

Students studied the principles of aerodynamics of flight by constructing two types of rockets -- one made from scrap foam and meat-packing trays that was launched using a rubber band and another made from pre-formed cardboard that students painted and then loaded with an "engine" and a parachute.

"This week's been kind of a fun week," said Talin Behrman, 11.

Students launched their rockets loaded with smaller engines first. Several had trouble with their igniters and were sent to a box of parts to reconstruct.

Troubleshooting and experimentation were part of the lesson, Olinger said.

One of the missiles lost a fin right before it was scheduled to launch, and the class set it off anyway to analyze the difference the defect would make on flight.

"As the scientist, you have to try different things until they work," Olinger told his students.

Others had successful launches on their first countdown and parents and students cheered as the smaller engine propelled the rocket 100 to 200 feet in the air.

Students chased down their empty rockets and loaded them with bigger engines that drove the capsules out of sight.

The aerodynamics lesson had several goals including basic literacy, problem solving and writing goals.

Others provided additional benefits.

"We want to get kids interested in careers at an early age, especially science and engineering," Olinger said.

"It's a good way to teach problem solving, to get students to think outside the box," Olinger said.

The rocket launch was more than a fun field trip, it was data collection.

Back in the classroom, students will have to analyze what happened, evaluating the design and balance of the rockets and discuss how they can go higher or farther.

"It's been pretty cool," said Maybell Elementary School student Justin Stevenson, 9. "My favorite part is making the rockets and painting them. And launching them."

The lesson could be career-defining for Stevenson, who said he'd like to build rockets when he grows up, inventing a new kind of rocket.

What kind, he isn't quite sure of.

"I'll experiment with that when I get there," he said.

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