The video ended with the crash landing of my rocket made entirely out of leftover rocket parts, cups, straws, and a donut box from Dunkin' Donuts. Model rocketry is an amazing hobby. You combine physics, engineering, chemistry, and good old trial and error, and you can make everything from small rockets that go a few hundred feet in the air to rockets made out of trash, rockets that don't even look like rockets, and rockets that can break the sound barrier and touch the very edge of outer space. The sheer thrill of the sound and sight of a rocket launch can excite people of all ages and get them hooked to learning more.
Building (and launching!) rockets is the hook that I intend to use to get more kids excited about learning science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Far too many students come to these subjects (especially math) with preconceived notions like "This is too hard," "I hate this," and "This is useless. I'm never going to use this." Model rocketry gives them a way to use the skills they have learned in school and apply them to something fun and hands-on.
I spent two years as a teacher and science curriculum designer at Harlem Success Academy, a charter school in New York City. We capped off our 6th grade physics unit by building and launching model rockets. Students that had struggled to engage with other labs on force and motion were enthralled with the idea that something they could build would fly hundreds of feet in the air at speeds of more than 100 mph. Every single student built and launched his or her very own rocket from the basketball court behind the school. When I hear from my students, some still talk about this project and how they want to apply to the specialized science high schools.
I was so excited after the rocketry project that I started building and launching my own rockets again for the first time since I was in high school. After several learning experiences (i.e. crashed rockets), I earned my Level 2 High Power certification.
I now teach math (pre-Algebra and Algebra II) at Santa Fe High School. Between the Science Club and the Navy JROTC program, we have four teams of students who want to participate in the Team America Rocketry Challenge this year (see the link for more information about the competition). These students are excited to design and build their rockets to exacting specifications and to refine their designs through launching the rockets and gathering data on the flights.
The reason I am coming to you, dear reader, is that our school is badly underfunded. We adopted a new set of standards this year for our math classes, and only about half of the classes actually got new textbooks. Positions for teachers and teaching assistants have been cut, and class sizes are climbing into the high 30s. Our school does not have the funds to field four TARC teams this year. We are trying to get the school to pay the $500 registration fee ($125 per team), but I may end up paying that fee myself in the hope that this KickStarter is successful and our teams can launch this spring.
We need to raise $2500 to run the entire TARC program at our school for one year. Included in this amount are startup costs like the launch equipment, design and simulation software, and altimeters that we can reuse from year to year, as well as recurring costs like the registration fees, rocket parts, engines, and eggs that we will need each year.
I have seen what KickStarter can accomplish. I helped fund the ARKYD program earlier this year. Once this rocketry program has started and we have the results and pictures and video and testimonials from all the students, I think that I can get more money from the school district to keep it going. I will also use these materials to pursue corporate funding from some of the aerospace companies in New Mexico as well as funding from other community groups.
The skills that these students will learn in the TARC competition can benefit them in so many ways. In addition to having fun and launching some rockets, they will learn engineering and design skills that can help them in many fields. They will learn how to gather data and improve their work based on that data. They will get something awesome to put on their college applications and write about in their application essays. Hopefully, this will encourage them to pursue careers in STEM, including in the aerospace industry.
The TARC competition this year is just the beginning. Over time, I want to expand this rocketry program in two directions. First, I hope to build this into a lasting program that becomes a part of the larger Santa Fe community outside of the school. Second, but just as importantly, I want use rockets not just in extracurricular activities, but also in my classroom instruction at Santa Fe High School.
$3,500 - This amount would allow us to buy the launch equipment that we would need to hold community launches, including a public address system, multiple launch pads, and a high power rail. Over time, if we can build up our membership, we could form a local section of the National Association of Rocketry (NAR) and apply for FAA waivers to hold high power launches. This is my first stretch goal since this would allow us to get kids interested in rocketry and the aerospace industry.
$5,000 - This amount would allow me to bring rocketry into my math classroom. This would be huge for so many of my students, especially the ones who struggle with math. If they can apply the math they learn to a concrete project, the standards and topics we cover will seem much less mysterious and frustrating. This amount would cover several class sets of model rockets and the engines we would need to launch them.
Any money above and beyond this $5,000 would be money that we could save for future years to continue to run the program.
And, just in case this really takes off:
Super Stretch Goals:
$50,000 - Assuming a 7% ROI, this amount of money would form an endowment that would allow us to run the TARC program indefinitely just off of the interest generated by the investment. We would never be in danger of losing our funding due to state budget cuts or changing priorities at the school.
$75,000 - Assuming a 7% ROI, this amount of money would form an endowment that would allow us to run the TARC program, community launches, and rocketry in the classroom indefinitely just off of the interest generated by the investment. I can only imagine that we make it this far, but rocketry has always been about shooting for the stars...
Risks and challenges
As with any project, there are certainly risks and challenges associated with this endeavor. Here are the ones that I can see and how I plan to address them:
-Logo: At the moment, our club does not have a logo designed. I am working with the students to develop one, but this is still a work in progress. Therefore, the stickers, drinking vessels, and T-shirts do not have a logo yet. Not having a logo means that the supplier for our rewards cannot give us a definite final price for the rewards and so we have had to build in a little uncertainty (the drinking vessel might be a water bottle or a mug depending on the logo and the pricing). This logo should be finalized in the coming weeks. There is also the possibility of changing the logo for different years if a different batch of students is more artistically inclined.
-Student Follow-Through: In between when students first signed up for the TARC competition and now, when we are finalizing the team rosters and the application packet, we have already lost a few students to other activities. It is possible that we could lose more students in the future. However, once we get them involved in actually building and launching rockets, I think that attrition will be very low. To address this, I have already purchased a set of model rockets that I will be giving out at our next meeting for the students to build on their own time. This will help them learn about the basics of model rocket construction and the different parts of a model rocket, as well as giving them a reason to keep coming back (painting the rockets, getting the engines, launching the rockets, etc.).
-Qualifying Launches: In the spring, each team will need to make three qualifying launches to see if they can attend the national competition. Adverse weather on the launch days and the unavailability of NAR-certified observers often sink teams who wait until the last minute. There is relatively little that I can do about the weather on a particular day, but we have already built our team schedule so that our rocket will be done in February, leaving the whole month of March for test flights and qualifying flights. This should give us plenty of time to reschedule if the weather is bad on a particular day. As for the NAR observers, I am a member of the local NAR section, and I have already spoken to two different folks who are willing to come to Santa Fe for our qualifying launches. Even if this falls through, the section has regularly scheduled launches in Albuquerque that we can attend as well.
-Launch Field in Santa Fe: Santa Fe High School has a large campus, and there are several places that we could use for low and mid power launches, including various sports fields and parking lots. This will be a fine solution for the TARC team. Holding community launches may be a little bit more tricky. Municipal soccer fields and baseball fields are a possibility, but they often have trees around them. Trees are bad for rocket recovery. There is a possible site that could even work for high power launches out near the city dump. Another local NAR member is investigating how we might get access to this property. The worst case scenario is that we would have to stick to only low power (A and B engine class) launches and high-drag rockets for low altitude flights on small fields.
-Future School District Support: It is unfortunately possible that we could receive no support from our school site or school district in the future, even if we run a successful program for a year. However, based on programs that I have been a part of at Santa Fe High so far and have gone in front of the school board to report on and ask for funds for, they like to support programs that have proven they can engage students and have lots of good testimonials and photos. If we can run this program well for a year, from my experience, it is highly likely that we can get money for it in the future. Even if this is not the case, I will continue to pursue other funding opportunities including corporate sponsorship, fundraisers, and partnering with local groups like the Boys and Girls Club to keep our launches going.
-Market Loss of Endowment Funds: On the slim chance that we actually get enough money to endow this program, there is always the possibility that a market crash could wipe out those funds. We would try to avoid that as much as possible by diversifying our investments so that a crash in one market or stock would not devastate our funds.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)