Calera Middle School Students Rock’in Out with Rocket Science

Calera Middle School students will be “Rock’in Out with Rocket Science” on Friday, March 4 thanks to a $1,000 Alabama Power Company Students to Stewards curriculum grant that was recently awarded to math teacher Dutchess Jones.

“The project’s purpose is to engage students in hands-on outdoor activities that will improve their reading comprehension, increase mathematics skills, and promote academic success in science and mathematics,” said Jones. “The science department will partner with the mathematics, history, English, family and consumer science, and art departments to plan and execute meaningful lessons that will engage all students, particularly the at-risk students in reading, mathematics, and science.”


Students and teachers at Calera Middle School are pictured launching rockets last year.


“The Sky is the Limit: Rock’in Out with Rocket Science!” is a hands-on project that will take place in an outdoor classroom setting.  The eighth-grade physical science classes at Calera Middle School will be constructing and launching rockets to demonstrate their knowledge of Newton’s Laws of Physics.  The launch, scheduled for Friday, March 4, is the culminating activity that encompasses four weeks of learning in the classroom, laboratory, and outdoor classroom.  This is the second year the school has used a cross-curricular rocket project to teach students these skills.

The majority of the experiences and tests will occur outside as outdoor activities throughout the day to accommodate all class periods.  Student lab groups will compete against other groups to build the highest-flying rocket.  Science teachers Christopher Oravet and Marie Wilson will team up to conduct rocket labs.  Mathematics teachers, Dutchess Jones and Chelsea Rutledge will teach the students about slope and will conduct math labs to build and launch paper rockets to help students further understand the rate of change when rockets are launched at various angles.

Kelli Smith, the family and consumer science teacher will teach the students a lesson on dehydrating foods and afterward, the students will actually make and eat dehydrated foods to mimic the foods that astronauts eat.  Markus Windham and Jana Lee, history teachers will intrigue students by introducing a fact of each day to peak the interest of students.  Art teacher, Nina Frazier will assist the students in decorating the eighth=grade halls with rocket science art pictures.  English teachers Melanie Thomas and Lindsay Guin will incorporate writing assignments to help students improve their writing.

“This rocket activity has been designed to further enrich students’ understanding of the fundamental laws of physics,” said Jones. “In addition to classroom learning, students have an opportunity to participate in several labs prior to executing this project to increase their understanding of the forces that govern our world.  Lab activities range from measuring the effects of surface area on friction using force meters to constructing mousetrap powered cars to visualize acceleration.”

Students will apply their knowledge of Newton’s laws, fluid friction, surface area, air resistance, speed, and acceleration in order to build a high-performance rocket.  During the rocket launch phase, students will be able to see momentum, inertia, speed, acceleration, and balanced / unbalanced forces in action.

General physical science classes will construct water-powered rockets using plastic bottles.  They will need to decide on the size, shape, and position of stabilizing fins.  To do this, they will need to apply their knowledge of fluid friction and surface area to mitigate the effects of air resistance. To make sure that students have a thorough understanding of the mathematics that is needed to successfully complete the project, the Pre-Algebra teacher will teach students how to find slope, graph and interpret graphs, and use formulas and solve equations.  The science teacher and Pre-Algebra teacher will collaborate to plan lessons that coincide with activities in preparation for the rocket launch.

Pre-AP physical science classes will build model rocket kits that are powered by Estes rocket motors.  These classes will have to decide on the position and number of stabilizing fins to reduce drag and increase rocket height.  To calculate the height of their launches, students will use tangent calculations.  To learn these calculations, the science teacher will collaborate with their advanced math teacher who will also help oversee their data collection on launch day.

After the rockets have been launched from the outdoor classroom, students will graph their results and create an acceleration graph to visualize the flight of their rockets.  Lab groups will present their findings to the class to help develop their presentation skills using presentation and graphing software available on science lab Chrome books.

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