Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

May 25, 2014

It is rocket science

Homemade models part of learning experience at GCHS

Lloyd — Hey, it’s not rocket science, right?

Well, it actually is.

 “It isn’t about me telling them what to do, or how to do it,” Greenup County High School teacher David Wilkerson said, preflight. “It’s really more a culmination of what they have learned in class, and how to apply it.”

Wilkerson’s physics class at Greenup County High School studied aerodynamics and the properties of flight this semester.

 Factors such as shape, height of the rocket and weight had to be considered. Research, formulas and prototypes all led to the construction of what most would call model rockets — the difference is that, with exception of the motor and gum tape, there are no prefabricated or commercial components on the student rockets.

For all intents and purposes, the project was an applied scientific experiment.

“As a teacher, you get a better idea of what they have learned this way,” Wilkerson said. “The rockets are made of rolled paper and two-sided gum tape, and the shape and the fins were totally the student design. Part of the design is allowing for the presence of the motor as well. It’s much better and they learn more than if I had just bought everything from a supply store and had the students fire them off.”

Although the students were responsible for every phase of  design to launch, safety was an issue  Wilkerson supervised. The launch site had to be away from other students and vehicles, and control of the launch had to be assured.

 The firing mechanism operated on a safety principle that  prevented accidental firing by requiring a key and a firing button to be depressed simultaneously.

Wilkerson conceded that, along with planning, a certain amount of trial and error was involved, with some designs needing to be reworked to be effective. But the group project (every student in the class was directly involved) yielded success with a 100 percent launch and flight rate. And, in spite of weather conditions being windy, the drop area as the rockets returned to earth was localized and all rockets were recovered.

Applying what students learn is a part of learning, and Wilkerson stressed to his students the importance of learning from mistakes as well as successes.

The implementation of the rocket project brings a practical aspect to studies and crosses the boundary into the “real world,” and gives tangible and measurable results.

Principles learned through projects such as the rocket project can be applied to other fields of study and can make students more effective at mastering what they have learned, Wilkerson said.


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