Standing behind a single pipe in the ground, sixth grade student Carinna Richards begins pumping air into a model rocket constructed out of plastic bottles, tape, paper and other recycled materials.
Her fellow sixth grade GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) students stand around the model rocket in awe, waiting for it to blast off into the air.
“My favorite is the bottle rockets,” Richards said. “I like the unexpected property and seeing what will happen next.”
After a pressing in a few more pumps of air into the bottom of the model, the bottle rocket leaves its resting position and launches up into the air.
The model rockets were just one of many hands-on experiments and projects 90 incoming fourth, fifth and sixth grade students in the Sulphur Springs Union School District completed during the district’s GATE Academy.
The three-day program at Leona Cox Community School encouraged students to create, solve problems, think critically, implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) engineering design practices and have fun during the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) camp.
“The entire group is doing potential and kinetic energy and principles of science and engineering,” said Kim Tredick, director of curriculum and instruction and GATE Academy coordinator. “This year it’s more standards-based with NGSS so we can modify it next year with the new kids.”
Each day during the three-hour academy, teachers Amy Bove, Kristina Puth, Kami Sunde, Marina Hubbard, Claire Rich, Amanda Parsons, Tess Toledo led their students through different science and engineering principles before instructing them on how to build model cars, helicopters, stomp rockets and solar systems.
The students were also working together to create a green screen presentation to report on their status to NASA, according to Tredick.
On Thursday, incoming fourth graders were working to construct their own stomp rockets out of PVC pipe, water bottles and three kinds of paper.
“We have constraints limited to the amount of materials we could use,” student Reese Shaughnessy said. “Aerodynamics for this it means something that cuts through the air and streamlines it so it goes up fast.”
Shaughnessy and her team added extra parts to their stomp rocket including paper wings and a payload ping pong ball to help it fly through the air.
“We’re working together to come up with the idea because it was inspired by SLS which is something Boeing is making to send to Mars,” she said. “We were inspired by that design and rocket. That one needs enough fuel to get into space and this one needs enough stomping power to go into the air.”
Using rubber bands, cardboard, putty, tape, washers and skewers, incoming fifth grade GATE students spent their Thursday morning designing and constructing rubber band-power cars.
“It is using both potential and kinetic energy,” student Grace Taylor said. “Kinetic is the energy of motion.”
A day earlier, the students used the same principles of design to create helicopters powered by wound-up rubber bands.
“It was a lot of trial and error,” student Logan Dino said.
However, a highlight for all the students, no matter the grade level, was the design and launch of the model rockets.
“It’s my favorite thing because we get to use our creativity to add different designs to decorate it and get to use trial and error to see if it will work or not,” sixth grade student Daniela Sarabia said.
The students added parachutes to their rockets to see if their cargo, a tennis ball, would land safely after launching and had the option of adding a hinge and wings.
“We are testing to see if a tennis ball can launch,” Sarabia said. “We came up with the idea of adding the hinge and cargo hold and wings.”
The GATE Academy provided students with a hands-on way to learn scientific concepts, test design principles and test engineering.
“It’s more interactive than just reading out of a textbook,” sixth grade student Isabel Rhodehouse said.
Administrators involved in the program hope students return each year to build on the project and concepts learned during the three-day academy.
“I’d rather learn one thing a week or read one book a week,” Richards said. “I wish GATE lasted all summer.”
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_