model rockets

STEM Academy Provides Enriched Learning

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Students at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering have an integrated STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curriculum that not only interconnects the four classes that students take, but also enriches their learning with diverse activities and experiences. Here are examples of activities students have done over the past two weeks with photos:

The 8th grade academy students taught the 7th grade academy students how to use different tools in the makerspace safely. The 7th graders can now begin doing projects that require building prototypes by using the makerspace resources.

 

The 8th graders finished a major engineering design project where they worked to design, build, and launch the fastest possible model rocket. Launching over three days, they achieved 29 successful launches of their six rockets (one per crew). Student Vidhisha Thakkar was the launch control officer, managing all launch operations.

To learn more about cybersecurity and prepare for the CyberPatriot competition, both 7th and 8th graders listened to guest speaker and CyberPatriot mentor, Emily Failla, as she described the intricacies of Windows operating systems and the security features they have.

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As they continue to learn about aircraft and the science of flight, the 7th graders did a lab comparing the flight performance of two store-bought balsa gliders. Soon they will get an engineering project to design, build, and test an improved glider.

The 8th graders got an assignment to help NASA with their Asteroid Redirect Mission in case an asteroid comes hurtling towards Earth. Their project is to design a way to use rockets to push an asteroid far enough off course so that it misses Earth. This requires an application of the concept of impulse, or applied force over time, an extension of what they are learning in 8th Grade Science with Ms. Garavel.

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Finally, a few academy students took advantage of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) Young Eagles program where experienced pilots from EAA take up students on free flights. While this is not an official part of our program and not sponsored by our school district, we have had students participate in the Young Eagles program several times with EAA Chapter 27 at Meriden-Markham Airport.

Again, all these activities happened over the past two weeks, and this is only some of what we do in the academy. Enriched learning motivates students to do their best. One 7th grader was asked if the academy was what he thought it would be, and his response was, “Oh no, it is so much more than I imagined!”

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Spiral Approach to STEM Learning

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Students at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering get to learn topics that most other students may not see until late in high school or in college, if at all. Examples include aerodynamics, astrophysics, aircraft and rocket design, and many other aerospace and engineering topics. While our school district promotes mastery based learning, which we use in our basic science and math classes, it is unrealistic for a middle school student to achieve mastery in aerodynamics or other advanced STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) topics–this is where a spiral approach makes sense.

What do these terms mean? Mastery based learning is the idea that students should learn a subject incrementally and achieve mastery, or a defined level of understanding and competence, before moving on to the next increment. We use this approach in both our science and math courses where we work with students to fully understand a topic before we move on to the next topic, and where each topic is defined by one or more state curriculum standards. In contrast, spiral learning is when students learn a subject at some level, then move on, but return later to learn more about the subject at a deeper level. Depending on the subject and the grade of the student, mastery of the subject may or may not be appropriate. This spiral approach is perfect for our elective courses in the academy where we want to repeatedly expose students to higher level concepts that are used in colleges and industry so that the students can envision themselves succeeding in these subjects some time in the future. The majority of US students do not pursue science or engineering, and one big reason is because they have no idea what a scientist or engineer does. By exposing students to firsthand experiences where they do science and engineering tests and build things using an engineering design process, they can see themselves becoming scientists and engineers someday. Using a spiral approach makes these types of experiences more meaningful, as the students see themselves improving in their knowledge and competence over time.

One example from the past week in the academy is a spiral approach to aerodynamics. The seventh graders did a basic project making a FPG-9 (a glider made from a 9-inch foam plate), then flight testing it outside. The glider has a rudder and elevons (combination ailerons and elevator), and students had to do an inquiry activity to see how the flight controls work. Later in the week, the students started an activity where they build a model aircraft or spacecraft, research it, and present their model and report to the class. These activities connected to what they were learning in science and in their flight simulator lessons. Meanwhile, the 8th graders, being more advanced in the academy program, are using a GDJ Flotec wind tunnel this week to measure the relative drag of the model rockets they designed and built over the past two weeks. Their task is to make the fastest possible rocket powered by an Estes A8-3 engine. The students are studying forces in science and vectors in geometry, so we put that together to discuss the net force on the rocket, and the students understood they wanted to reduce the weight and drag as much as possible in their designs. After wind tunnel testing, one crew repeatedly refined their rocket and cut the drag almost in half. We launch in the coming week. I do not intend for these students to achieve mastery in aerodynamics, but by periodically doing fun activities involving aerodynamics, and by making each activity more challenging than the last one, the students eventually achieve a high level of understanding in a complex STEM topic.

Here are photos of the 7th graders with their FPG-9s and models:

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Here are the 8th graders using the wind tunnel and photos of each crew with their rocket:

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Learning by Doing: Hands On & Minds On

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At the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering, students learn STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills in a variety of ways. In most lessons, the students are learning by doing what they are studying. In learning the engineering design process (EDP), Mrs. Garavel’s new 7th graders have first studied a process promoted by NASA for middle and high school students. Then they had a design challenge to make a miniature “cable car” that would slide down a fishline. Each crew (group of 4 to 5 students) followed the EDP in a step-by-step way to brainstorm, design, build, test and refine their cable car. In doing so, they learned the EDP in a way that was both fun and helpful in making the theory become clear in their minds. Similarly, the 7th graders, having just completed and presented research reports on various aircraft, flew the flight simulators to see how aircraft actually flew.

Meanwhile, the 8th graders got an engineering challenge to design and build the fastest possible model rocket powered by an Estes A8-3 engine. As second-year academy students, they know the EDP very well, but this project challenges them to take it to the next level. They have spent the first week just researching, brainstorming, and designing. I augmented their research by giving lecture/discussions on NASA hypersonics research and North Korea’s Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) program, both of which relate to rockets. Next week they will start building, and launches are planned the week after. Learning by doing–it’s not just hands on, but it is also minds on, engaging students and challenging them to think critically and solve problems while working in teams.

Here are photos of the 7th graders in action:

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Here are photos of the 8th graders in action:

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Dynamic End of School Year Activities

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While many schools are winding down the school year with “fun” activities, videos, and other educationally light fare, the students at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering are working on challenging and engaging activities right up to the end. The 7th graders, having just completed a lab comparing two types of model rockets, are starting an engineering project where each crew is designing their own original model rocket, then building and launching it as a test of the design. Students are ensuring the rocket is stable and are analyzing what forces will act on it. Here are some of the students launching their rockets during the lab while following all safety procedures laid out by the National Association of Rocketry:

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The 8th graders are completing a coding and engineering project where they built and coded small drones, then flew them. These are Codrones made my Robolink, and the students had to learn everything to do this project through online tutorials. The Codrone uses an Arduino platform, and Robolink provides modified C++ code that the students can use, then tailor to make the drone do what they want. Essentially, this is a robotics activity. This was a challenging project, involving coding and flying. Here are some photos of the students working with Codrones:

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Another task by one crew is to follow up on our Sundial Project and demonstrate the winning design to the Superintendent so that he can approve it to be built outside our school. To prepare this demonstration, the students made a full-size prototype with floor tiles, then laid them out and tested the sundial’s accuracy – it was spot on, as the last photo shows where Sydney is the gnomon and Richard is pointing to the current time, 3:45PM, which is right where Sydney’s shadow falls:

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Finally, the 8th graders just finished the earth science unit on astronomy, so we are looking at life skills using Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Dr. Stephen Covey. The students are studying what Covey said, then planning how to apply them in their lives now and in the near future in high school.  We are wrapping up an outstanding year, and giving the students these challenging activities makes for a good closure.

Learning Forces and Motion through Gliders and Rockets

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At the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering, students have been learning about force and motion over the past week. However, rather than just do traditional lessons and labs, students also have done inquiry activities and applications of what they learned about force by using model gliders and rockets.

The seventh graders have used gliders to begin learning about the forces of flight. They learned the terminology and related the terms to what they have been seeing on the flight simulator. Then they built and flew balsa gliders and paper gliders in inquiry lab activities to further see how these forces interact. The following photos show their learning in action.

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The eighth graders concluded their rocket project where each student group, or crew, had designed, built, and tested an original design with the goal of accelerating as fast as possible. The common constraint was that all model rockets used an Estes A8-3 engine, providing an average of 8 Newtons of thrust for about 2 seconds. The best design belonged to Crew 5 whose rocket accelerated at 94 feet per second per second up to over 640 feet in altitude. All six of the crews’ rockets flew straight, stable flight paths and accelerated well. The students learned to calculate the acceleration using distance and time as the basis. The following photos show each crew with their rocket.

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Crew 5 with World’s Fastest Rocket!

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Learning Using Various Models

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The students at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering are focusing on the use of models this week, though we use models throughout the school year in various ways. A model can be physical, conceptual, or mathematical, and we use all three types. The use of systems and system models is also one of the cross-cutting concepts promoted in the Next Generation Science Standards, the latest guidance on how to teach science effectively.

For the 7th graders, Ms. Garavel introduced the idea of models, then gave the students an assignment to assemble a model aircraft or spacecraft, do a report on it, and present it to the class. The students will also soon be flying model gliders, then designing their own model gliders. These students are learning that models can be a simple way to learn about a complex machine, such as an airplane. They are also learning some basic techniques for building. While the assignment and tasks are fairly simple, they serve as a good model for later on when the students learn to build in our makerspace using hand tools, power tools, and 3D printing. The following photos show the 7th graders assembling their models and preparing their reports.

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I am teaching the 8th graders, and we are using model rockets to study motion, primarily the concepts of distance and displacement, speed and velocity, acceleration, and force. The students had to design their model rockets to accelerate as much as possible while all using the same model rocket engine. After some preliminary labs where we studied motion, we discussed how we could graph a model rocket’s motion when it is launched. A graph is a mathematical model. The students saw how a velocity vs. time graph could be used to find the altitude of the rocket by calculating the area under the velocity curve. We also used a wind tunnel to model how drag will affect the rocket inflight. The following photos show model rockets and the 8th graders building, testing, and launching them and measuring their altitude and time to reach altitude – and to show how much these students have progressed in the past year, note that a student is running the launch pad (and he did a superb job, maintaining a safe, efficient launch schedule), and all the students’ rockets launched and flew straight, stable flight paths, compared to a 50% success rate the first time they did such a project last year.

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Finally, in the last two weeks the students have heard guest speakers who serve as role models. In celebration of the US Air Force’s birthday, we heard Captain Nicole Robillard, US Air Force, speak via Skype about her service as the supervisor of airfield operations at her base in England. I met her there when I was traveling in England this summer, and what struck me was this very professional officer was from Bristol, Connecticut. What was especially impressive was that she and her three sisters all attended the US Air Force Academy, an extremely selective college. We also heard another guest speaker this week, Donna Men, a senior at Western Connecticut State University majoring in accounting. Donna was inspirational as a role model, as she had moved to this country from Cambodia when she was ten years old, speaking no English. She went on to become a successful high school student (and my student for three years) who earned so much scholarship money, she got a refund from WestConn every year. She also has already gotten a job offer from Deloitte, a world class accounting firm. These role models and the other forms of modeling are helping the students at the academy become better learners and better citizens.

Learning the Engineering Design Process with Model Rockets

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Students at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering are in the final weeks of school, so we are doing our last engineering design challenge. Each challenge follows the NASA Engineering Design Process. Students first get a problem to solve, then they do research to see what has been done before and what might apply to their problem. They brainstorm ideas to develop a solution, then they finally pick the best design that meets the criteria of the problem. Finally, they build and test a prototype to develop a final solution. They document all these steps and their daily activities in an engineering notebook. Our current aerospace theme is about rockets, so the last design challenge is to improve a model rocket design. A couple weeks ago, the students got two different model rocket kits, an Estes and Viking, and they conducted a lab to test their respective performances. See my last post for details on this lab. The engineering design challenge I presented to them was to develop an improved version of either of these rockets – namely, they had to develop a model rocket that would fly as high as possible, and higher than the commercially available rockets.

To meet the challenge, student crews (groups of 4 or 5 students) first did research and brainstormed ideas. We also reviewed the basic physics of rocket flight and the forces involved. Students understood that for the rocket to fly higher, it needed to have the least amount of weight and drag. Each student crew then worked on their initial designs. When they presented these designs to me, before anything was built, I was not impressed. The designs had minimally changed the commercial rockets, making very small changes to the original designs. I told the students to go back to the drawing board and be more bold and innovative. They took this challenge and developed much better designs that changed almost every aspect of the commercial rockets. The redesigned new fins using new materials, they used computer aided design (CAD) to 3D print new nose cones, they redesigned the recovery systems, and they changed the body tubes. We are finishing these new rockets by early next week and plan to launch and test them on Thursday, May 26th, weather permitting.

Here are photos of the students developing their rocket designs and constructing various components:

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