Science unit takes class outdoors for lesson
Vito Iovino, an eighth-grader at Giles School in Norridge, pulls the cord to launch a water rocket propelled by water being forced out by compressed air, while eighth-grader Billy Atienga (right) stands back. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 3, 2012 10:31AM
There was a little more air traffic above Norridge than usual Friday morning, and it was coming from behind James Giles School.
None of it interfered with planes taking off from and landing at O’Hare Airport on a perfectly clear day with little wind, although at times, from certain angles, it looked like it might.
Sixth-grade students in Jim Gruszka’s science class were launching rockets they made with 2-liter plastic bottles filled with water, some with a little extra weight, and all decorated with pointy nose cones and fins.
The rockets, pressurized by air pumped into them with a bicycle pump, flew straight up, took off at different angles, corkscrewed through the air or barely made it off the launch pad. Results varied depending on design, weight, amount of water and a few other factors determined by the students.
Dozens of students gasped, ooh’d, ahh’d and clapped as rockets took flight and crash-landed or floated down with the help of parachutes deployed at the right moment.
It was the perfect last assignment of the year, which is an annual event for Gruszka’s class.
“We try to get in as much discovery learning as we can,” Gruszka said. “I give them as little help as possible on the project. We’ve discussed physical science during the year and we talk about pressure and we do a few activities in the classroom involving pressure and how it works and fluids. And we take water and air and the concept of pressure and work those together.”
Armed with that knowledge and the bottles, it’s up to the students to design the rockets with fins, nose cones, and weight distribution in three days. The students also have to determine how much water they want to put in their bottles.
“They’re putting this together with what they’ve learned throughout the year,” Gruszka said.
They launched on May 23 and had two days to refine their rockets by last Friday’s launch.
“I tell them to be very observant out there and to watch other peoples rockets and see what the difference is in the successful launches and the unsuccessful launches,” Gruszka said.
Height and duration of flight are recorded and their grade is based on an average of the two, as well as on the changes the students make and what they learned.
On Friday, teacher Mary Mostyn was helping record results. She noted that one rocket traveled 275 feet on Wednesday.
The red and black rocket belonging to the Paulina Kozan - Mishel Habaci team looked like it could have achieved that height.
“I think it went higher last time,” Habaci said.
Both girls said they learned a lot about weight distribution, pressure and finding the center point of gravity. Both designed the rocket with the idea of making it look as much like a real rocket as possible.
“It took us three days, three to four hours every day,” Kozan said.
The fun, as well as the learning experience, was not lost on either girl.
“It’s a fun activity to do because you have to learn and build your knowledge into creating something and making it better,” Kozan said.
Habaci added, “It’s a fun way to end the year. You learn something new and have fun at the same time.”
Julia Stefaniak, whose purple rocket got some impressive height before a parachute was deployed, enjoyed the simple pleasures involved.
“It’s nice outside,” she said, smiling. “It’s fun to sit outside and watch it all.”
And, as if celebrating the end of the school year, Matt Marvin and Michael Barnas’ rocket came apart and showered students with confetti when the parachute pulled the nose cone off.
Marvin was pleased more with the height than with the visual effects.
“Last time the chute came out, but the rocket didn’t go as high,” he said.
Barnas said cutting some fins and using less duct tape made the rocket go farther.