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Excited about engineering

Drinking straws were the material of choice by HRS students when building rockets as part of an engineering experiment

September 22, 2010
By Jenny Kirk

MARSHALL - When Holy Redeemer teacher Kathy Richardson saw that the Minnesota State Science Standard now included engineering in its science curriculum expectations, she quickly implemented an excited new project to help prepare her students.

Richardson is guiding four classes of seventh- and eighth-grade students through a three-week hands-on experiment as part of a STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) project.

"The state kind of tweaked the goals that they want for the students' skills relating to engineering," Richardson said. "They're finding that kids across the nation need to improve their problem solving skills."

Article Photos

Photo by Jenny Kirk
As part of a new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) project, Shawna Vandendriesche, center, gets set to launch her straw rocket as Jarrett Louwagie, right, and Chi Chi Nwakama look on Monday at Holy Redeemer School.

The students use drinking straws for the rocket body and are responsible for attaching wings that are cut out from index cards and nose cones made from clay.

Most of the experiments are conducted in two-person groups and focus on three testing aspects: length of the rocket, size of the nose cone and launch angle. Each group is given two different sized straws to begin the project.

"The students perform a series of launches changing specified variable," Richardson said. "They will ultimately be challenged with designing a rocket to hit a specific target."

The students have to figure everything out for themselves, including designing and then attaching the wings, forming and then weighing the nose cones, measuring the launch distances and also analyzing the data and making corrections.

Richardson said that the project combines all the STEM subjects because that is a true problem solver.

"You're investigating through a controlled experiment, which would be the science," she said. "The engineering is actually the construction of the nose cone or the fins. After we do the trajectories, we have to sit down and calculate the velocity. They'll also be putting together a scatter plot that will show relationships between the angle of the launch and how fast it is going. That really is mathematics. The technology portion is just applying what you've learned."

In the project's first year of existence, Richardson said that the kids at Holy Redeemer have not only enjoyed the experience so far, but they've learned a lot.

"We use a smaller tip," said Allen Christiansen as he and partner Noah Henle watched their straw rocket soar down the hallway. "Along with the angle of our wings, that's why ours goes so far."

Shawna Vandrendriesche and Lauren Mathys were up next on the launching pad. But their rocket nose-dived quickly.

"Our smaller rocket doesn't go as far," Mathys said. "It's probably because our nose cone is too big."

When asked if the duo enjoyed the project so far, both agreed.

"Yeah, it's really fun," said Mathys and Vandrendriesche.

Actually getting to launch the rocket was the best part according to partners Adam Ratz and Thomas Fischer.

"Shooting it is the best," Ratz said. "We're learning that the nose cone makes the difference."

Back in the classroom, Natalie Rademacher and Nick Saugstad were making wings for their rockets.

"The wings have to be more than 10 centimeters, but less than 20 centimeters," Rademacher said. "The nose cone has to be no more than two centimeters."

In the second class, a number of students were weighing their clay nose cones. Richardson made sure they understood how to use the balance system and also how to record averages.

Ted Ektanitphong and Jordan Boerboom were recording all their data from their previous experiment.

"I like the testing the best," Boerboom said. "We found that the smaller nose cone makes a big difference."

"I like all the building and testing," Ektanitphong said. "I'd rather be here doing this than in the computer lab typing."

Many of the students were able to predict how far their rockets would fly.

"We knew it wouldn't go far," Alyssa Edwards and Joseph Sullivan said as they wrote down their weak launch results.

But trial and error are part of the experiment.

"The students want to be right," Richardson said. "They don't want to do some experiments because they don't want to do it wrong. Except that by doing it wrong is how the learning takes place."

So, just like Richardson's effort to get a new project going to get the kids up to par for the Minnesota standardized testing, the kids are working towards making the right adjustments.



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