Houston, we have lift-off! Fifth graders from Mrs. Heaton’s class at Willow Creek Elementary invited me to participate in their annual paper rocket launch. The rockets were made from construction paper, tape and clay… that’s it. No engines or explosives in these rockets – the only fuel was 30 pounds of air pressure. I learned how to make the rocket launcher several years ago while speaking to teachers at Space Camp for Educators in Huntsville, Alabama. The morning started with each student making their first launch. Some of the rocket designs were great while others just blew up on the launch pad. It was back to the drawing board as the students reanalyzed their designs, fixed the flaws and headed out for the second launch. The success rate for the second launch was well above 80%… and the young rocket engineers were amazed to see their success.
The greatest learning moment of the entire morning was the numerous failures the students experienced on their first attempt.
The students expected success… and when they failed it forced them to re-tool and try again. This hands-on rocket activity is all a part of Mrs. Heaton’s science and literature integration with Homer Hickam’s October Sky. This single lesson does more to drive home the importance of trial and error than anything I’ve seen in years. Best of all, the students write about their successes and failures and what they learned as part of a blogging activity. Last year, Linda and Homer Hickam found Mrs. Heaton’s blog and posted their own entry.
Every good teacher gives homework… and tonight’s homework is in the form of a blog post. Each of the students will share what they learned from this activity and how it relates to October Sky. Their comments appear below.
Top rocket scientists in training. The students on the left had rockets that flew over 50 meters, and the two top rocket masters blasted their paper rockets over 100 meters.