Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Ivy Tech Model Rocketry Camp - Part 1

Rocket camp is finally over, and it was a wild ride. I have never launched this many rockets in this short a time period. Even though I had to limit our altitude, which meant we launched only with A or B motors, it was a lot of fun. I usually completely avoid the A motor, as it's pretty wimpy on a big field, but it turns out that with a lightweight rocket and a small field, an A8-3 motor can still produce quite a spectacular launch.

I wasn't sure what to expect with this class, but it turned out that if I had expected anything, everything would have changed on Day 1.


There would be three week-long sessions, each lasting three hours per day for five days. That seemed like a lot of time to fill, and it was. The age group I would be teaching was to be 11-14, and there were ten spots available in each session.
I had to figure out what I would be teaching, and what we would need. I had been told "Do whatever you'd like. The camp can be whatever you want it to be." Apart from the fact that we needed to build a rocket and launch it at the end of the week, the whole thing was pretty open-ended.

I had several months to prepare a shopping list. Ivy Tech had a pretty healthy budget for these classes. I think that's probably pretty rare. Mostly when you get to teach rocketry to a group of kids, it's often probably only for an afternoon or two, it's usually on a volunteer basis, and there's little to no money available for kits, supplies, etc. So, my mind was kind of blown when I was told to "try to keep the shopping list under $400 per week."

Wow... Wow... I could do so much with a $400 budget, as long as I planned it right. The biggest expense would be kits, followed by motors. Both Estes and Quest Aerospace sell educator's bulk packs of rocket kits, and I wanted to pick something that was 1) standard (with balsa fins, parachute recovery, centering rings - i.e. not a minimum diameter rocket) 2) required some building time (15 hours is a long time, and it doesn't take that long to build a basic rocket if you leave out all the fussy fin filling, tube spiral filling, shaping of fins... All the stuff I like to do, but which could be off-putting to a group of kids), and 3) not so expensive it would squeeze the rest of the budget. So, I was looking for your basic Skill Level 1 rocket.

I decided on the Estes Alpha. This is kind of a classic, and a really basic 3 Fins and a Nose Cone (or 3FNC) rocket, and one I hadn't built before.

I'd never had an opportunity to do something like this before, so planning was a little hard to figure out, since the structure would be entirely up to me. I kept changing my mind on the shopping list, and submitted it really on the last possible day. I wasn't sure how ambitious to be, but it seemed like I had a ton of time to fill. I considered having the kids build their own simple launch pads, and maybe launch controllers like this one on the NAR website, so that they'd go home with not only a rocket, but the ground support stuff necessary to launch it whenever they wanted to.

Also, there was the question what would I teach the kids? What was going to be accessible enough? What was too much? The age group was to be 11-14 years old, and I wanted to challenge everybody, but not lose the younger kids or bore the older ones.

My impression is that a lot of times, when you get the opportunity to introduce kids to rocketry, you might have an afternoon, so you want to keep it simple - launch some rockets, talk about the most basic of basics. Having time to build with kids is lucky. But here, I had so much time, I had to chart out what I planned to do. I started by laying out a bare bones schedule based on what I guessed it would take to assemble the rocket and paint it, making sure to get the rockets done by Friday, when we'd launch.

Well, I'm here to tell you that plans change. Whatever plans I'd thought I would follow got thrown out the window on Day 1. And the "plan" changed from week to week (this was to be three week-long sessions each, so if I had a program that worked solidly, I could have simply repeated it three times). There was no leftover materials from the previous years' camps, so I had to make it up as I went along.

And then there was the weather. Launch on Friday, you say? Ha! You'll launch whenever you get a clear window, pal...

Now, if you've read my blog, you know I tend to write really long posts. I've been thinking about this story for a while now. I'm just getting settled in to Boston after the move, and I've been procrastinating on the blog. Rather than take forever to write this up, I'm going to break it into chunks, so that I can get some blogging done, and not burden the reader with too much information at once. Also, I need to get hold of some pictures for this series, and that means digging through my stuff to find my camera.

Up next: Week 1 - Plans and how little they mean.

Click here for Part 2.

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