Saturday, June 4, 2016

Rocket Camp 2016

I'll be back in Bloomington, Indiana next Friday, to tech the Ivy Tech College for Kids model rocketry class again.

Launch day!

Last year was a lot of fun, and went much better than I think people were expecting. A number of parents told me they were surprised how much their kids learned during the class.

I was happy, but I knew the kids could learn a lot in one week. Each session lasts five days, at three hours and ten minutes per day, and it was rainy. So I had a lot of time to fill, and was able to teach a surprising amount of the basic principles of rocketry.

Demonstrating a cluster rocket - the three-motor Trident
I started to blog about the experience, but I had to move across country, got really busy, and I never finished the series. The more I thought "I have to finish writing about this," the more it felt like a chore, so I never got around to it. This blog is part of my enjoyment of this hobby, and if I feel like I "have to" do something, I often don't do it.

Occasionally, I would ask a question on The Rocketry Forum about this or that, but because I was teaching a kid's rocket camp, most people kept saying "You've got to keep it simple!"

Demonstrating use of the Estes Altitrak
I understand what people are saying, but I respectfully disagree. Yes, you must keep your rocket curriculum simple if you only have a couple of hours, or one day. But this class was nearly 16 hours, spread over the course of a week. And kids are smart. Give them a challenge, and they can rise to it. If you can come up with a good, fun way of demonstrating the principles you're talking about - total impulse, Newton's laws of motion, center of gravity and center of pressure, altitude tracking, even angle of attack - kids will not only understand it, they'll remember it. Believe it or not, these kids learned all of this stuff, and I hope to show in a future post some of the fun ways I got them to grasp the concepts.

Claire writes down the elevation angle data from each flight
Even if they don't completely understand everything, or if they forget it six months later, some of these things will come back in school. When they take physics and learn about Newton's laws of motion, for example, they will have that feeling that this is familiar. Learning is partly about repetition of information, and there's a cumulative effect to these things.

They really can surprise you. I occasionally asked a question of these kids about something I was explaining a day or two before - how total impulse was measured, for example - because I wanted to see if they were absorbing the information. Was I actually going over their heads, I wondered. But the kids were able to answer the question - often, the kid who knew the answer was one I didn't think had been paying attention!

Tracking station

I'm going to try to keep this blog updated throughout the three weeks of this year's rocket camp, because the experience was valuable to me, and I think it may benefit some of you out there. For the rocket n00bs who read this blog, there may be a thing or two that you might learn from it, or if you're an old hand at rocketry, but a n00b to teaching rockets, maybe you'll get a couple ideas. We'll see.

In any case, it'll be fun to spend three weeks building and flying rockets with a very enthusiastic group - kids. Seeing a rocket launch can blow the mind of even the coolest 13-year-old. And if you built that rocket yourself, it's even more amazing.

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  1. Yes, if you provide bright, motivated kids with an enthusiastic presentation of complex topics they'll typically surprise you. Rocket Camp sounds and looks like a great time - kudos for stepping up and passing on your enthusiasm to the next generation. What kits did the kids build? I see a Crossfire and a Baby Bertha (?)...

    1. These pictures were from Week 1 of last year. We were all supposed to be working on the same kit, so that I could guide them all through the process.

      The kit I'd ordered was the Alpha. When I got there, the guy running the camp had ordered the Alpha III - which would have taken far too little time to build. I had lots of time to fill, especially considering the bad weather. We couldn't go out and launch on most days.

      So they went to a local hobby shop and bought out their stock of Skill Level 1 rockets. Which was good, because the kids could pick their own. And one kid had done the class the year before, when apparently they built Alphas, and he was glad to build something different.

      The drawback was that each rocket was different, so rather than us going step by step, together, and waiting for the glue to dry while we did something else, I had to run from kid to kid helping them with each rocket.

      In the mean time, the kids would finish one step and immediately move on to the next step, without waiting for the glue to dry. It made for some funky rockets, but they all flew well.

      Week 1 was a bit rough. It was my first time doing it, and the build session was a little stressful.

      On Week 2, we built Vikings. Those were great, but they fly so high (being minimum diameter rockets), it wasn't ideal. We have a small space to launch from.

      By week 3, I had ordered the Quest Astra kit. We were able to keep those to lower altitudes, and since some kids did more than one week, it was good to have a different rocket each time.

      This year, I've decided on something a little less common, in case any of the kids have already built some Estes rockets. We're using the Apogee Avion. Should be enough building to keep the kids occupied for more than twenty minutes, and I hear it's a nice rocket.