It is a sunny morning as fifth-graders in Kristin Wilder’s class at Schultz Elementary School start counting down from five.
After the countdown, a student presses a button and a paper rocket bolts away from the launch apparatus. However, the force of the launch rips the stabilizer fins off the fuselage as the rocket spins erratically in the air before coming to rest a short distance from the launch zone, and a great number of feet away from the objective landing zone.
“Our rocket is trash,” says one of students who designed the rocket, Jude Dude, and the next team sets up their rocket, inputs the launch angle, and the countdown begins.
One by one, each team fired the rockets they designed and placed flags at the landing area, with the goal of landing in the objective.
Wilder said she’s been doing the project with her students for the last 10 years, adding it’s a fun science assignment to close out the year. Wilder’s class built the rockets a day prior to the May 16 launch date, and the air-powered launcher was designed by Wilder’s father, Neal Kaffen, a former computer engineer.
Wilder said the project shows students how much variables like different fins, designs, or wind can have on the outcome of an experiment.
“It teaches the scientific method and collaboration,” she said.
Several students said they enjoyed the assignment.
“I liked that we could build it any way we wanted,” said Noah Miller, a member of the team that build Jude Dude. “It didn’t go the way we wanted, but at least we beat someone.”
Luke Helman, a member of the team that built a rocket called “The Four Doofisis,” said his favorite part of the assignment was seeing his rocket launch.
“We could have done better on the fins,” he said. “I like that we are doing this on one of the last days of the school year. It was a fun project.”
Cooper Frye, a member of the second-place team, said his favorite part was getting to collaborate with his friends.
“I feel really good (about how the rocket did),” Frye said. “I really enjoyed spending time together.”
Kaffen said he found the design for the launcher on the internet, and he’s been helping Wilder’s classes do the project for years. He said this year’s class was the best he’s seen.
“Every (rocket) launched this year!” Kaffen said. He explained that usually students build the tubes too tight or the rocket designs have other flaws, and he was impressed that everything worked this year.
“They really followed the directions well. They were really paying attention,” Kaffen said. “They were more creative with the shape of the fins”
Kaffen said he’s been building rockets since he was a kid and was happy to see the class get excited about the project.
“(I like) the excitement of the kids and seeing them getting excited about science and a little bit of math,” he said. “I’ve done this since I was 10. It’s been a lifelong hobby.”
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.