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About 200 Covington County fourth graders spent the year learning about, building and launching rockets through Alabama 4-H’s rocketry educational program.
Fourth graders in three Covington County elementary schools participated in the year-long program, led by Covington County 4-H Agent Assistant Tanya Bales and teachers at each school.
In May, the youth spent the day launching their creatively-designed rockets to test their skills and knowledge. Plus, they had a blast themselves. Dubbed as an End-of-Year celebration, the fourth graders launched their rockets two at a time to the cheers and encouragement of their classmates.
Straughn Elementary School, home to about 120 4th-graders who participated in the project, spent an entire day launching their hand-made rockets class by class.
The program began last fall, when Bales decided to teach rocketry to youth as part of her regular 4-H club program. “It’s a great 4-H program because it gets the kids excited about learning,” she said. “Kids love to learn in a hands-on way, and the 4-H rocketry program does that very well.”
Specific 4-H programming such as the rocketry program provides a much-needed boost to school curriculum, and offers youth a more interesting way to learn as it incorporates technology, innovation and hands-on educational methods.
During the year, the children learned about the different parts of a rocket, propulsion, kinetic and potential energy and velocity, topics that they likely would only have read in a book. They also tasted “astronaut” food and took part in a propulsion exercise where they used a balloon, yarn and tape to learn how the amount of air in a balloon determined how far it would travel.
Straughn’s fourth-grade science teacher Jill Smith said the monthly 4-H program was useful in teaching educational objectives. “Doing things like this, which are very hands-on, is very helpful because children learn more when they actively participate. The children looked forward to their meetings.”
She said the study has been helpful to each child’s overall learning process because it covered required learning objectives set forth by the state Department of Education. “We try to do as many hands-on projects as we can because children learn better. This program has been fantastic.”
The youth made three different rockets during the year, starting off with a simple food-based rocket made from a marshmallow, gumdrop and Hershey kiss. Using that simple illustration, they learned about a rocket’s body, wings and cone.
The next project was straw rockets, using a drinking straw and attaching wings and a nose to it to see how it would fly when launched. “We focused on the cone of the rocket with this experiment, learning how the shape of the cone can determine the height and distance a rocket can go,” Bales said.
Bales added a nutritional component to the curriculum, letting children taste and learn about dehydrated food astronauts ate in space, and making their own version of food using chocolate pudding in plastic bags.
For the final rocket, kids tested several concepts. Using a two-liter bottle, they made and attached a cone and wings, as well as decorated the bottles. Each rocket was filled with water and set on a PVC-pipe and bike pump launcher made by Bales and Covington County Extension Coordinator Chuck Simon.
“The rockets were very inexpensive and the kids had a lot of fun personalizing them,” Bales said.
Kids encouraged each other as they used the bike pump to add pressure to the water-filled bottle, creating pressure inside the bottle and causing it to launch in the air. Water sprayed the kids as they watched their rockets fly.
“We learned that the wings were an important part of the rocket because they create lift,” said Dalton Glidewell, a fourth-grader. “We also learned that if the cone is not pointed, it will create drag.”
Dustin Berry said he liked the balloon rockets best, adding “I liked how the air pushed the balloon and the more you blew it up, the more propulsion the balloon had. If you blew it up full it went across the room.” Donovan Johnson liked the project and looked forward to each class. “We got to see it in action and not just read about it. It was fun.”
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