Teachers Learn Rocket Science to Launch New School Year
School is out for the summer, and those long, lazy days of summer without classes provide a break for many students. For teachers, however, summer is a time to reflect and prepare next year’s lesson plans.
This summer, twenty-two teachers reversed roles and became students once again, ready to learn fresh, new approaches and activities designed to bring excitement and a love of learning into their science classrooms.
Students of all ages revel in the excitement of watching a rocket blast off into space. To capture this excitement and engage students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), the teachers attended a one-day workshop focused on the basics of rocketry on June 26, 2010 at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
“Summertime is about professional development and recuperating from the school year,” said Nancy Frizzell, a science teacher at South Valley Middle School, Gilroy, Calif. “With the information NASA provides, I’ll be so much more sophisticated in the classroom. Kids love hands-on activities.”
At eight o’clock sharp, these teachers assembled in the NASA Ames Exploration Encounter (AEE), a student learning and resource facility. Inside AEE, a large room filled full of hands-on space activities and media equipment was arranged into a makeshift classroom. Long tables and chairs were placed in rows, each place stacked with learning materials, including a NASA Basics of Rocketry educator guide book, a Basics of Rocketry DVD, NASA science brochures, NASA fact sheets, photographs of the astronauts and space shuttle, and various others.
“I teach physics and chemistry to 11th and 12th graders,” said one enthusiastic teacher at the workshop. “I’m learning what it takes to launch a hand-made rocket, and is it doable in my classroom? It seems to be a great hands-on activity where kids can learn about physics and see results.”
One of the first lessons the teachers learned was “How a rocket works.” They also learned about Newton’s Laws of motion, and were shown simple activities to demonstrate each principle. In addition, they learned about force, mass and acceleration.
Teachers then were shown a simple “fizzy” rocket demonstration, consisting of dropping an effervescent tablet in water and pouring it into a film canister. They then watched it “launch” from a tabletop.
Many of the teachers also used this experiment in the classroom, which inspired them to share their own experiences, each suggesting variations of the same demonstration.
NASA Ames education coordinator Wendy Holforty guided the teachers through the experiments. “If you want to find out what works best, change one variable at a time,” Holforty said.
“I have been teaching for 14 years, and these workshops are a great way to network with other teachers,” said Patty Van Campenhout, a teacher at Columbia Middle School, Sunnyvale, Calif. “We modeled bottle rockets in the classroom last year. Here, we can exchange ideas with other teachers and share our success stories.”
For the highlight of the workshop, teachers were shown how to build their own fully-functional model rockets. These rockets were designed to carry a payload, in this case a raw egg (teachers called them their “eggstronauts”), and equipped to have the payload recoverable by parachute. The teachers then launched their rockets from Moffett Federal Airfield. They were joined by members of the Livermore Unit of the National Association of Rocketry (LUNAR), which is an Ames’ monthly public rocket launch activity.
After flying their own rockets, the teachers inspected Ames’ Titan I rocket, comparing the components that they had built, with those on a full-sized rocket.
“I’m the facilitator for this traveling workshop,” said Miranda Martin, an education specialist for the Basics of Rocketry workshop, sponsored by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala. “I have taught over 400 teachers in this workshop. If you consider that each teacher has 30 students, that’s 12,000 students we’ve reached to share the excitement of NASA.”
“This is my first NASA workshop. I came because one of our graduates was a NASA Quest summer intern, and she now is motivated to be an aeronautical engineer,” said Christina Fugazi, a teacher at Venture Academy in Stockton, Calif. “She met NASA astronaut Jose Fernandez, who also is from Stockton, and said, ‘If he can do it, so can I.’”
When Martin was asked why kids are so attracted to learning about rockets, she explained that “It’s the excitement of fire and smoke. It’s about the magic of NASA. Any time people talk about NASA , it always makes it more exciting.”
For more information about the NASA Student Launch Initiative, visit:
For more information about the rocketry workshop, visit:
To view the Adventures in Rocket Science Educator Guide (pdf), visit:
For information about A Rocket Launch for International Student Satellites (ARLISS), visit:
For more information about NASA Ames, visit:
Ruth Dasso Marlaire
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.