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Rocket project tops list

Some people assume students identified by school officials as "gifted and talented" do not have difficulties and do not need special help such as students who struggle with reading and math do.

That assumption is far from reality.

Gifted students need help, too, but in different ways than their classmates.

Crestview Elementary School first-year teacher Jessica Mace found three projects to help focus gifted kids and spur them to function in cooperative ways.

Gifted kids find many tasks easy. They are often the first to raise their hands in class to answer teacher questions. Because of that, when they make a mistake or do not have the correct answer, they easily doubt their abilities.

Pulling them out of class and grouping them together in teams for classroom projects can challenge them with more difficult tasks than their classmates. They also learn more about cooperation and group problem solving.

Crestview teachers, and Principal Ed Ross, under district rules regarding site-based decisions, opted to hire Mace this year. Because of district emphasis on reading and literacy in recent years, they felt kids needed more help honing math skills.

She started teaching math last fall and was also given the task of shepherding programs for gifted kids for 45 minutes twice a week.

"I remember making toothpick bridges when I was in junior high," said Mace, a Woodbury High School graduate.

The purpose of the project is to learn to use toothpicks and glue to make bridges that can hold weight, in this case, $20 worth of pennies that were applied to bridges built by teams of gifted kids.

By looking at pictures of bridges and the load-bearing principles of triangles, teams made bridges, unaware they were also getting an introduction to physics. "Many of them underestimated their abilities," Mace said.

She said it was her job to guide the students and lead them to find solutions for themselves.

"Gifted kids are used to being leaders," Mace said. "Functioning as a team with other leaders was a challenge," she said. "It took some time for them to learn new roles."

In working on the tessellations unit, kids studied repeated shapes and colors, some in man-made objects such as school hallways, quilts, murals and nature.

The art unit, which also featured principles they will study later in geometry, was a challenge for the gifted kids.

Instead of quickly mastering tasks, students had to work harder and longer to get results. "They learned what it takes to make a quality product," Mace said.

When it came to a third project, students got to choose.

"Unanimously, they picked rockets," Mace said. "I didn't know anything about rockets. I learned quickly."

With the help of Art Gibbens, who instructs student-rocket building at Hope Christian Academy, and Ken and Paul Jarosch, students picked out rockets from catalogs.

Step by step, students learned principals of rocketry, Mace said. The three men "were also very specific about safety."

On launch day, students learned what is meant when NASA "scrubs" or aborts a mission. Last Friday, it was rainy and launches were postponed to Monday.

With better weather, students watched as their rockets soared skyward.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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