Rocketing their way to knowledge

College for Kids continues

This is a rubber band car in the making. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — If someone placed several compact discs, pencils, rubber bands and a piece of cardboard in front of you and told you to make a car, what would you do?

That was the task given to fourth- and fifth-graders Monday during the opening session of “Rockets Red Glare,” one of the many sessions taught this week during the summer version of Northern Michigan University’s College for Kids.

The classes, which run through Friday, take place at the Glenn T. Seaborg Mathematics and Science Center.

Josh Fenske, who teaches science and social studies in sixth grade at Bothwell Middle School, facilitated the “Rockets” session, which although was to culminate in the making of small rockets, began with the students designing “rubber band cars” and seeing how far they could make them travel.

They could have seen a diagram in a textbook of how to make such a car, but the experience wouldn’t have been as complete as having them design and make the cars themselves.

Hunter Beltz, 9, of K.I. Sawyer, works on creating a rubber band car during Monday’s session of “Rockets Red Glare” in the College for Kids. Helping him is facilitator Josh Fenske. That and other sessions took place at the Glenn T. Seaborg Mathematics and Science Center on the campus of Northern Michigan University. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

“It gets them away from the general paper-and-pencil idea of just sitting there and writing stuff down,” Fenske said. “I like the hands-on. You’re still learning all the main concepts, but it’s actual, physical. It’s in front of you. You can touch it. It’s something that you can do and not just read about it.”

Motion played a big part in Monday’s class.

“How you design that car, how to choose to make that car is up to you, but it’s got to travel on its own,” Fenske told the youngsters. “The point of this is for you to do the least amount of work possible on the car, and put as little force on that car as possible in order to make it go.”

Rockets were to be created later in the week, starting with paper rockets and then moving on to ones made out of pop bottles.

How big they will be made, Fenske said, factors into how far and fast they will travel — in other words, how mass affects velocity.

“These are concepts that NASA even encounters to this day,” Fenske said. “How are they going to get a payload, or supplies, up to the space station using as little amount of fuel as possible but still able to get the most material, or supplies, up to the space station? Because the fuel for the rockets? That’s not cheap. It’s pretty costly.”

The car-building activity allowed the students to learn about energy, letting the car use all the energy.

“In order to make something go, you have to put energy into it, right? Whatever energy you put in is the same energy you’re going to get out,” Fenske said.

The youngsters broke into groups to design their particular cars. They then had to use the materials at hand to create those cars. Unsharpened pencils would be used as axles and the compact discs as wheels, with thumb tacks and paper clips also used for their creations.

The kids, of course, had questions.

“So we only use half a chunk of cardboard?” asked Ashe Sobczak, 9, of Marquette.

They were reassured that was about all they would need.

Hunter Beltz, 9, of K.I. Sawyer, had a particular interest in fireworks.

“Are rockets kind of like those fireworks that go off at the Ore Dock?” Hunter asked.

Fenske said they are types of rockets and explosives ones at that, with fire lighting compressed powder producing the energy for fireworks.

The hotter the fire, the brighter the color, such as a red or yellow.

Among the rubber band car-making groups, the youngsters brainstormed ideas, some of which worked and some of which didn’t.

Figuring a design out with minimal help, however, was part of the exercise.

Preliminary results also differed.

Said Ida Larsen, 10, of Marquette, on her early prototype: “It’s a wagon!”

The College for Kids was scheduled to begin June 18-22, with sessions including “Geometry Geniuses” for students in kindergarten and first grade and “Spy School” for fourth- and fifth-graders.

The week of June 25-29 was to involve teaching second- and third-graders about the “Jurassic World” and “Healthy Habits,” for example.

An afternoon session scheduled for this week, “To the Rescue,” allows second- and third-graders to engineer their own aid drop packages to help send supplies to areas around the world that have experienced a natural disaster.

Sessions set for July 16-20 include “It IS Rocket Science” for sixth- through eighth-graders and “Jungle Adventures with LEGO Robotics” for youngsters in second and third grades.

For more information on the College for Kids, call the Seaborg Center at 906-227-2002.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.