Up, Up and Away

Pencil RocketThere are certain days as a teacher when you know you have done your job right. For me, one of those days was today. One of the classes I teach is “Space Physics.” In this 3 credit class, my students and I go on a tour de force of the history of spacecraft and exploration of our solar system. At the beginning of the semester, none of my six students had ever watched a space shuttle launch on TV, and their interest in the class existed, but let’s just say they didn’t seem eager and excited to learn as much as they could. But today, the last day of the semester, I saw that all this had changed. These were excited students, ready to take what they had learned and run (or rather fly) with it as far as they could. For some of them, that distance was a few hundred feet straight up.

My Space Physics students, in addition to several students who are part of the SIUE physics club, all built rockets. Many of these rockets were of their own design, incorporating objects as odd as Budweiser cans and toilet paper (as well as toilet paper rolls). The rockets didn’t all behave in the most predictable of ways. The “Finless Wonder,” a rocket without any fins, flew a wild course that threatened to set us all on fire (never kneel on the hem of your jacket to keep warm during a rocket launch – it is impossible to not get tangled while attempting to run out of harms way!). A rocket with carefully angled fins corkscrewed its way skyward on multiple launches. An egg-craft protected its fragile cargo on two trips (one through the trees). Through out the experience, the students were talking about what might go wrong (discussions based on science), bemoaning the cancelled shuttle launch (which a couple had gone out of their way to try and watch), and overall laughing and plotting to repeat the experience next semester.

I just sat back, packed engins with ignitors, and enjoyed my students’ pleasure using knowledge to have fun. It doesn’t get better than this.

To see pictures, check out the album on my Facebook. SIUE network members can view even more pictures by visiting the group “The Physics Club.”

The delightful Chad Morelli from the Suburban Journals spent the afternoon with all of us, taking great photographs of the day. You can find his story here.

One Comment

  1. Chris January 10, 2009 at 8:37 pm #

    One thing that my students love is when we somehow incorporate food into our work…so I have them make three dimensional slice models of “weird” shapes and use calculus to find the volume of the smooth version.

Leave a Reply