Weeks of preparation culminated in a few glorious seconds for eighth through tenth graders at Sierra Crest Academy on Tuesday as students launched miniature rockets in a field near the school.
"It's a fully integrated project," said Steve Klekar, a former engineer who now teaches math at the public charter school. "The students mix trigonometry with Newton's laws of physics. We tell the kids they are math detectives as opposed to math robots. We want them to understand the process, not just the answer."
A few weeks ago, students received kits including all parts necessary to build a rocket. In designing the fins, they had to take into account wind resistance and aerodynamics.
"The first thing we had to do was figure out the angle of the fins," said eighth-grader Victoria Weirauch. "I did some research to figure out what designs had been successful in the past."
Eighth-grader David Fristed said he would use trigonometry to determine how high his rocket went. Some 120 feet from the launch pad, students were armed with an inclinometer to measure from the ground the angle of a rocket's highest point.
Using the baseline and the angle, students could compute the height of a rocket's trajectory.
By measuring the flight time, they could also determine a rocket's speed of travel.
"It's basically rocket science," Fristed said.
The project involved more than math and science. Students had to research the history of the Space Race and write a technical manual to accompany their rocket launch.
"This is one of the more successful projects," said English teacher Amy Sando, who helped students with the writing aspect. "It's a very hands-on project, and we see immediate results."
Kids huddled around the launch pad. Fristed was one of the first to go. He filled his rocket with water, fastened it to the launch apparatus, then pumped air into it to create adequate pressure. Everyone backed up, and he squeezed the release trigger. Water exploded from the base, and the rocket whizzed nearly two hundred feet in the air.
"It went higher than I thought it would," Fristed said. "I lost it for a second."
One by one, the kids launched their rockets. They recorded necessary measurements on a dry-erase board. After the fun, they would have to calculate which rocket went the highest and fastest.
"Obviously, the fun part is launching the rockets," said eighth-grader Morgan Sinclair. "It's an interesting topic. I might go into rocket science when I'm older, but it's not likely."