After the fourth stomp rocket got stuck in the gym rafters, I decided maybe we should tone it down a little bit and start acting more professional.
But it was hard! These kids were excited to be at their first STEM expo, showing off their projects and seeing what other students across the district have been doing.
It all started in early March when I announced to the class that we going to create STEM projects for the district expo in late April. Our topic was angles, a major CCSS math focus, and we were going to find out which launch angle results in the greatest distance for stomp rockets. Stomp rockets are tubes of construction paper with nose cones and fins. You launch them by slipping them onto a pipe which is attached to a hose fitted to an empty 2-liter pop bottle. Stomping on the bottle sends air through the hose and the pipe, sending the rocket on its way.
I decided to have the whole class do the same project. I play a long game when it comes to science; I figure if we do the same experiment together when they’re in fourth grade, they’ll understand the process and be able to come up with their own idea next time. And since I’m taking over the STEM club next year, I’ll be there to help them!
So they chose groups, collected pop bottles and built their rockets. I built the “launcher,” with the capacity to launch at 30, 45 or 60 degrees. We had a long discussion about the pros and cons of each angle in regards to flight distance. They made their predictions, with most of them choosing 45 degrees.
Then it was time discuss controlling the experiment. I explained that each student could have a different stomp, due to differences in size and strength. I also touched on bias, explaining that scientists have to make sure that they don’t “accidentally” do something that would help their hypothesis come true. We agreed that instead of stomping, we would drop a heavy bag onto the pop bottle from a height of exactly one meter.
The day before Spring Break was launch day. It took about an hour, with each student launching their rocket from each of the three angles. I recorded the data, which was interesting. Most of the rockets had their longest flight at 45 degrees, but not all of them. In fact, there were several teams in which all of the rockets flew farther at 30 degrees. That’s when I explained the value of having a lot of data. I taught them how to compute averages, and we found that when we used all the data from the whole class, 45 degrees was the clear winner.
Once we finished the math and science, it was time to write. My students have Chromebooks, so they started a shared document with separate sections for prediction, procedure, results and applications. They had a lead writer for each section and away they went. By the time they were done, the district had dropped off the seven display boards and my scientists morphed into graphic designers. Despite my complaints, glitter found its way onto several boards. Grr.
The district picked up the boards last Friday and the STEM Expo was on Monday. We have a fairly high-needs population, dominated by recent immigrant families, and I was concerned about atte
ndance. Much to my delight, 24 out of 26 students showed up! This is more than double the amount we usually get for evening activities.
The kids were great, they explained the project to their visitors, toured the high school to look at the other displays and toward the end, I let them demonstrate their rockets. That’s when we lost several rockets in the rafters above the gym scoreboard.
But it was worth it. The project was a success by any measure. They kids were engaged all the way through and got to apply their learning in math, science and writing.
They even got a free T-shirt!