This was our ninth year of rocketry at the Page School. And for this year we made modification to both the build and launch, reached one milestone and finally got recognition from the Pentucket School District. As usual, the unit can be broken down into four parts. The first is the prebuild, where a few students stay after school and help assemble parachutes, streamers, motor packets and photocopying. The second is a day of practicing the use of an Estes Altitrack and stop watch. The third being the build and rocketry lesson and finally, and the most fun, launch day. There were sixty kids in the 6th grade this, with twenty in each of three home rooms - taught by John Benvenuti, John Peters and Brenda Erhardt. We built our usual three rockets - Estes Alpha I, Custom Rockets Razor and the Fliskits Thing-a-ma-jig. Pictures are in the Gallery.
This year the pre-build went very smoothly and we actually got everything done that we needed to - a first! And it was done in less than two hours. We had the students do the usual - assemble launch bags (motor, igniter, plug and wadding) for both A8-3 and B6-4 motors, fill glue bottles, and assemble trifold/shock cords, assemble parachutes and streamers. For the streamers, we always use a role of yellow CAUTION tape. We've done this for three years now but for some reason, this year it took hold of the class. They thought this was very funny and the CAUTION streamers made it into their essays and drawings.
For the build, we rank the three kits in order of difficulty (easiest to challenging) Razor, Thing-a-ma-jig and Alpha and I let John (Benvenuti) decide which home room builds what rocket. For each rocket and each year, we follow the same procedure during the build. I demonstrate how two parts go together - the 'dry fit', with the kids just watching (nothing in their hands). The kids then do the same dry fit and if all parts fit together nicely, we follow it with glue. We do that for each step of the build. And each year, there are two issues we always have to deal with - too much glue and jumping ahead - i.e. as soon as I take two parts in my hands for the dry fit, they are already gluing those two parts together! I'm sure there are numbers of papers on this in child psychology and I would love to read them! In any event, we actually did not have a glue problem this year. Not so with the jumping ahead though and Katy had to intervene a couple of times and tell the kids to put the pieces down and pay attention!
Launch day was not looking so good when I got to the soccer field to start set up at 6:00 am. It rained the night before and was drizzling as I was setting up the launch field. To add to my anxiety, the sprinklers were going at the far end of the field. The maintenance crew knew of the launch that day, so the sprinklers should not have been on and why they were on while it was raining - I just don't know. But they did stop midway through the set up. However, the real issue was that the PA system was not working. I had tested it the day before and it was fine. However, that morning I could tell that the amplifiers were getting power, but no sound. That was going to be a problem. The other issue we had to deal with was that we were going to be short handed again this year with only five proctors. We need seven at the launch for everything to run smoothly with each having their own responsibility. With five proctors, I knew I was going to be busy and pictures were going to be haphazard a best. However, by the time we did get to the launch field, the rain had stopped, the sun was out and there was very little wind - a very good sign.
For the past few years, each team launched their rocket twice, first on an A8-3 and then on a B6-4. The Razor and Thing-a-ma-jig use a parachute for the A motor and streamer for the B. The Atlas uses a streamer for both flights since it travels a lot higher. For each flight, the kids record their tangent angle using and Estes Altitrak and time their flights with a stopwatch at a station 200 ft from the launch pad, with John P. there to help. Using those two measurements, the kids calculate their flight altitudes and average speed in ft/sec and mph. This year, we decided to try three launches per team. The third launch would either be with an A8-3 or B6-4, with each team deciding which they wanted to repeat. The first two rounds of launches went well. Luckily John has a strong voice and he easily overcame the lack of a PA. Although I'm sure his throat was sore the next day. The first launch always gets a 'WOW!' from the kids. They really don't expect the rockets to go as high as they do. And there is always an even bigger 'WOW!' for the first B motor launch. The teachers and I love hearing that and we always comment on it later. The third launch did not go smoothly. There really was not enough time for it and we only got through about two thirds of the teams before we had to stop. I'm glad we tried it but I think we will go back to two launches next year.
After all of the team launches were done, we had our normal 6-way drag race with Razors, Thing-a-ma-jigs and Atlas's. I launched three of my own: Frick-n-Frack, Too-Cool-for Spool and Decaffeinator. All worked great. The Frick-n-Frack always gets a big cheer. That is a perennial favorite. They love seeing the staging and watching the two stages spin to the ground. The kids also really loved the 'coffee cup' rocket! Finally, we launched 6 Alphas on C6-3 motors, each with two 80 ft streamers. And because of the lack of any wind this year and it went great. The kids really loved it. And that was it, we took our group shot, cleaned up the field and the kids headed back to school for lunch. That afternoon, they finish their calculations and have a writing and drawing assignment about the unit.
There is usually one event that defines the year and this year it happened during the launch. Because I was busy taking care issues as they arose during the launch, I did not actually see many of the flights. At one point during the launch, John pointed to rocket under parachute and said something that I didn't catch. I called back that the rocket was not one of ours. It couldn't be. It was an Atlas, but it was close to 400 ft up, a couple of hundred feet west of the launch field and was under parachute - our Atlases only recovered via streamer. Someone at the field on the other side of the stand of trees must be launching. Also, this rocket was not coming down. It must have been on a thermal, because it was traveling latterly heading west. I then saw two of our kids by the end of the field looking at the rocket. 'Is that yours?' I called at them. 'Yes', they called back. 'It's gone!' I called back to them. For some reason, they decided to switch out their streamer for a parachute for their B motor launch. I'm sure their Atlas made it to Groveland!
Ok, the milestone. We surpassed 500 launches since the start of the program - 576 to be exact. And it looks like the School District wants to implement our rocketry program into the other 6th grades in the district. It took nine years for Pentucket to finally give the Page School some recognition; but at least it did happen. This is great for the Page School and especially for John, John and Brenda and I'm glad for them. Although, I think this means more work for me!