Launching Success with the E and M in STEM

 In pictures-of-practice

Joe Weichman and Steve Heck, NASA Endeavor teachers in two rather different classrooms, demonstrate success with diverse approaches to the same fascinating topic—Rocket Launches.

Mr. Weichman, a pre-service teacher conducting a STEM study with introductory algebra students at Santa Monica High School in California, used a rocket launch activity to demonstrate the relevancy of math in science. Through his work in Endeavor courses, Mr. Weichman developed activities that integrate math and science by linking algebra to rocketry. He believes that these connections help inspire students to choose STEM careers.

Mr. Weichman introduced his rocket unit with NASA videos of shuttle launches and future propulsion systems. With students, he conducted several rocket launches and finished up his unit with algebra problems that used data directly from the launches themselves. His problem set was developed using the “5E” method, a versatile and highly effective instructional tool for engaging students in a variety of learning modes. Mr. Weichman reports, “Students were continually asking when we could launch more rockets. One student discussed the desire to start his own rocket club.”

Similarly, Mr. Heck, a 5th grade teacher at the Mulberry Elementary School in Ohio, now has 4th grade classes excited and looking forward to participating in his Mulberry Rockets Design Process as 5th graders. While immersed in Endeavor’s course Physical Science in Motion: Classroom Applications, Mr. Heck developed a set of rocketry lessons, focused on the Engineering Design Process, using “inspiring” NASA resources and teacher guides.

He started rocketry by assigning teams of four students an engineering challenge—the design of a next generation spacecraft for astronauts. Mr. Heck’s fifth graders used NASA reference materials, videos, and especially NASA-designed applets to develop their concepts during the Research and Possible Solutions phases of the Engineering Design Process. Students drew scale models of their solution and requested materials to construct their models to test. To further enhance the unit, Mr. Heck built a NASA-designed wind tunnel for student use during the design process. “I thought it would be great for students to design, test, redesign and then fly their rockets.”

Mr. Heck reports, “The actual testing in the wind tunnel was outstanding. The need to test and evaluate models was clear, and to my amazement, over 80% of my students went back to the drawing board to change, correct, or adjust some portion of their model. Of course, the highlight of the lesson was Launch Day. Each team presented their flight-ready model and launched it for the class. It was a great day in STEM Education. My superintendent and principal were amazed at what my 5th graders accomplished.”

Through informal feedback Mr. Weichman determined that his students were successful in making connections between math and rocketry, and have a greater appreciation and understanding of how math is intertwined in society. Students in Mr. Heck’s class were equally inspired as they began discussing additional phases for the unit which has blossomed to include an art component, as well as a corporate component where students write professional letters requesting employment as engineers.

Now a NASA Endeavor Alumnus, Mr. Weichman is certain that his Endeavor experience was highly relevant to his future. “Many of the things I learned from going through this program will be permanently integrated into both my teaching strategies and the development of a new charter high school that will emphasize STEM.”