Mr. Cory Isebrand's sixth-grade science class at Le Mars Community Middle School has been supplementing an Astronomy unit with a rocket launch project for about three years to better align with the Iowa Core. Despite the belief that students simply complete assignments to get a good grade, Mr. Isebrand's students have continually debunked that theory.
The students put their study of engineering, trigonometry and physics to the test when they designed, built and launched their air pressure rockets. What makes this project unique is that the rockets are constructed of only card stock and masking tape. Once the rockets were completed, the students were given multiple opportunities to test fire their rockets using the pressurized launching platform.
"The students weren’t satisfied to just see whose rocket looked nice and whose rocket blasted off the launch pad, they wanted to know how fast and how high their rocket traveled," said Mr. Isebrand, "Doug Martin and Tracy Wingert, physics and geometry teachers at Le Mars Community High School respectively, helped to provide information with formulas and instruments to measure the altitude the rocket reached."
What Mr. Isebrand discovered was that a grade for this project was never discussed nor necessary because the students readily accepted the challenge to construct and launch their rocket.
"They really enjoyed the project and did a great job," added Mr. Isebrand.
Not every launch was a success and some had catastrophic blowouts; however, that was not a deterrent for students because they simply retooled their design and attempted a re-launch of their rocket. Based on the class's data recordings and calculations, there were many student rockets that achieved a height in excess of 274 feet and a velocity of more than 90 miles per hour.
“In today’s complex world, the need for innovative problem solvers is an absolute necessity. Courses in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) will provide our students with the opportunities to learn the concepts and problem-solving skills that the global economy requires," said Steve McHugh, instructional coach/math consultant at Northwest Area Education Agency, who assisted with the project. "Mr. Isebrand’s activity exemplifies the exploratory learning and active student engagement required for students to truly learn.”
Providing the opportunity for students to construct the rocket, collect the data and analyze the data brings the real-world into the classroom and spurs the curiosity for learning that is necessary for scientific innovation.