Making science skyrocket

-A A +A

Marshdale Elementary fourth-graders get hands-on experience with rocket science

By Deb Hurley Brobst

Marshdale Elementary fourth-graders were rocket scientists for a day on Monday when they used their scientific-inquiry skills to make and launch rockets from soda bottles.

They had help from real rocket scientists from Centennial-based United Launch Alliance, who told them about rockets and satellites, then helped them with their rockets.

ULA, a joint subsidiary of Lockheed Martin and Boeing Co., launches a variety of government and commercial payloads using Atlas and Delta rockets.

Jeff Patton, ULA’s manager for systems engineering and integration, gave the students an assignment: A meteorite brought a magic substance to Earth that helped all students get A’s. But the substance eventually was used up — so the students needed to design rockets to travel to an asteroid to procure more.

Working in groups, the pupils named their rockets and used colored paper to decorate them. They went outside and made decisions about the launch trajectory and how to position the launch pad so the rocket would land inside a circle of plastic cones that represented the asteroid.

ULA brought a special pad that used compressed air to launch the soda-bottle rockets into the air. Students had three options for the angle of trajectory: 30 degrees, 45 degrees or 60 degrees.

It was a great example of hands-on learning in which students used trial and error to reach their goal. They learned that the steeper the launch angle, the higher the rocket went. They learned that paper and decorations on the rocket made it heavier, so it wouldn’t fly as far. They learned that conducting experiments can be high-flying fun.

Patton said the presentation to students is part of ULA’s goal to promote STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math — and some of the career paths these subjects can lead to.

“I studied a lot of math and science,” Patton, whose wife works at Marshdale Elementary, told the students. “Now I work designing rockets. It’s the best job ever.”

Solon Halstrom, Ashlee Grose, Matty Clarkson and Riley Hinton named their group and their rocket the “Fire Breathing Rubber Duckies.” They put an orange “beak” formed with construction paper on top to make it more aerodynamic, and they drew flames on the sides of the bottle.

Hannah Wood, Haley Rundle, Liam Taber, Megan Vance and Josiah Wood named their rocket the MIP, which is short for Mission Im-Possible. They taped six wings to its sides. Hannah drew a bat on the MIP because she loves bats.

“We hope it will launch and not go all over the place,” Liam said. “There’s no reason for the color scheme. We used what we could get our hands on.

But time was running out for the rocket builders.

Chi Hau, also with ULA, told the students that they needed to finish their rockets.

“When we build rockets (at ULA), we have a deadline, too,” she told them. “Look at all those colorful rockets. Are you guys ready to launch?”

On the playground, the students sat while Hau prepared the rockets for launch. Two at a time they took off, some going higher than others.

The MIP team, after the first launch of its rocket, was impressed.

“Isn’t this awesome?” Hannah said. “Nothing fell off (the rocket).”

Then the group strategized for the next launch to try to get the rocket to land inside the circle.

The Fire Breathing Rubber Duckies team was not satisfied with its first launch, so team members pulled the decorations off.

“They are trapping the air, so (the rocket) didn’t fly as far,” Riley said.

Fourth-grade teacher Denise Capretta said the rocket exercise was a good break for students, who are in the midst of standardized testing this week. Plus it dovetailed nicely with the fourth-graders’ study of the solar system.

“We need to make good scientific decisions,” Capretta told her class. “Even though we think we have evidence of what will happen, we have to try again and again. We would not want to launch a communications satellite without trying things out first.”

Contact Deb Hurley Brobst at deb@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1041. Check www.CanyonCourier.com for updates.