Class excitement reaches new heights with rocketry lesson


October 21, 2007|By John-John Williams IV

More than 100 eighth-graders at Patuxent Valley Middle School stared eagerly as they watched the smoky trail left by a model rocket as it ascended hundreds of feet into the sky and then headed back to earth.

"Ooh! ... Ahh!" the students exclaimed as a small yellow-and-black marker trailed the rocket on its decent.

The students spent three hours Monday launching model rockets that they designed in science class. Launch day was the culmination of weeks of lessons that included Newton's laws of gravity and forces. The students watched October Sky - a 1999 film about West Virginia teens in the 1950s who built rockets - minutes before launching their own.

The lesson is a favorite of students, say educators at the school.

"It gets them to take that extra step and make them focus," Principal Robert Motley said. "This creates that spark in the classroom."

"It's a great way to jump-start science in eighth grade," said Dafnette Jones, a science teacher at the school who has taught the lesson for the past four years. "It's hands-on. Many of them wouldn't have the opportunity to do this otherwise. It's an experiment that they will remember until the end of the year."

Ashleigh Evans, 12, basked in the accomplishment of her rocket's ascent of 85 meters - about 279 feet.

"We got to have a new experience," she said as she cradled her rocket, which had been adorned with multiple colors.

Duane Echols, 13, was quick to point out that his rocket reached 90 meters, or about 295 feet.

"This is way better because we get to do more hands-on things," he said.

Daniel Agee, 13, didn't care that his rocket didn't soar higher than those launched by Ashleigh and Duane.

"I had a lot of fun," he said. "My rocket went higher than the school and higher than the highest tree. I had fun. The good thing is you don't have any homework."

Hygiene initiative

Howard County high school maintenance workers have been armed with more powerful disinfectants and new equipment to combat a growing number of staph infections.

Maintenance workers spray the new disinfectant each night in the locker rooms and bathrooms at each of the 12 county high schools.

"We're also doing more education with athletes about hygiene," spokeswoman Patti Caplan said.

Howard County schools sent out an informational letter to parents last week after a second case of staph was reported in less than a week at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia. The school was disinfected shortly after the first case was reported, according to Caplan.

"We're in constant contact with the Health Department," Caplan said. "We're taking it seriously. This is not unique to a school setting, but we want to make sure we do everything we can to lessen the chance of students contracting this in our settings."

The two reports at Wilde Lake have been the only cases in the Howard system, schools officials said.

The Howard County cases are part of a growing number of reports in Maryland and nationwide.

A 17-year-old Virginia high school student died after being hospitalized with the infection last week. As a result, officials shut down 21 schools for cleaning to keep the illness from spreading.

Four Anne Arundel County high schools - Severna Park, Glen Burnie, Old Mill and Chesapeake - have received reports of 28 staphylococcus infections over the past three weeks.

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