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Armstrong third-graders apply STEM skills in rocket project

Brevin Vang and Lexi Penton, both 8, appear pleased with their rocket’s 3.34-second flight time. The third graders were partners in Brandon Otte’s media class at Neil Armstrong Elementary School. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)1 / 2
Lola Gackstetter, 8 retrieves her rocket from the launch pad on a baseball diamond at Neil Armstrong Elementary School.Lola is a third-grader in Brandon Otte’s media class.Tuesday, the class helped their teacher launch their rockets.The teams recorded the flight times of each rocket on a clipboard. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)2 / 2

Third-graders at Neil Armstrong Elementary School deployed a bit of rocket science last week.

As part of their media class, they read “Alien in My Pocket: Blast Off,” Nate Ball’s novel about 4-inch-tall alien named Amp who crash lands in the bedroom of a boy named Zac. To help Amp get back to his planet, Zac constructs a rocket.

The kids followed Zac’s example. Working in teams of two, they built air-powered rockets from 2-liter soda bottles, duct tape and cardboard.

Their teacher, media specialist Brandon Otte, supervised the test launch Nov. 15 on a baseball diamond outside the school.

“They got to work with someone they might not otherwise work with, which is kind of cool,” Otte said.

These miniature MacGyvers also got to apply some science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM principles.

While the class watched from behind a chain-link fence, Otte used a bicycle pump to build up the air pressure in each bottle, which was half-full of water.

The kids counted down. One team member shot video, while the other pulled a string that uncoupled the bicycle pump from the bottle.

Whooosh! The rocket burst skyward, trailing a twisting stream of water. Seconds later it hit the infield with a resounding splat!

“Awesome!” was heard frequently.

Partners Brevin Vang and Lexi Penton, both 8, were especially excited to post the best time of that session. Their rocket stayed in the air for 3.34 seconds.

Students used a clipboard to write down the times of each team. Otte said they’ll create a graph by crunching the numbers through a Google spreadsheet. Students will incorporate their video clips into a Google slideshow, Otte said.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

(651) 459-3435
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