Thursday, February 26, 2015

Stupendous 2015 Strawckets! - Part 2

I thought about not writing part 2 to this wonderful project, but there were too many awesome rockets from  2nd graders and 4th graders to ignore.

When I go into a classroom, I usually try to give students some context for the project  we're doing that day (what's the point if they don't understand the relevance?). For this project, I talked about the possibility of a manned mission to Mars and how we need a new rocket technology to get us there. Of course, we also need a very efficient rocket design that will make the most of the new technology. 

I also talk about what we take when we go on vacation, and what things we must take to Mars or elsewhere when it could potentially be a one-way trip after a problematic landing. Sometimes (I haven't done it recently), we have a discussion about the fact that it might cost more than $1,000,000 to take 1 pound something into space. All these problems point to coming up with a very efficient rocket design:
  1. to make it safer for the astronauts
  2. to arrive at the destination faster
  3. to save money
 So, without farther ado, here are some great designs from today's classes.

2nd grade Distance Strawcket Winners

2nd grade Spiral Trick Strawcket Winners

Other Strawcket designs from a 2nd grade class
4th grade Distance Strawcket Winners
4th grade Spiral Trick Strawcket Winners
Please check out some other interesting designs from the 4th grade class.

Sure, a lot of these designs may have problems with aerodynamics, but I don't feel that it's my job to curtail their creativity in any way.

The words to remember for my science project classes are - curiosity, creativity, and determination.

I  hope you have fun with your strawckets.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Stupendous 2015 Strawckets! - Part 1

I usually do 10 projects in a school year (try to do a project a month for most classrooms, and do a few more for my child's classroom), and I try to mix it up so that kids and I don't get bored. BUT this is one project that I go back to every year because kids ABSOLUTELY love this project.

Before we start building our strawckets, I explain Newton's Second Law, which says  
Force = mass x acceleration (I use mass and weight interchangeably in the classrooms).

Over the years, I've learned one thing from the kids of all ages and grades - adults consistently underestimate their ability to create and problem-solve. So, I cover the Newton's Second Law in Kindergarten classes, too, but I use addition instead of multiplication, and use visual aids. What I want them to understand is the relationship between the three variables. 

If the force is constant (our lung power), then if mass goes up, then acceleration goes down. If the mass goes down, acceleration goes up.

Then I ask for volunteers and have the biggest, tallest child, the smallest, shortest child, the fastest runner, and the slowest runner come up for a demonstration. The biggest, tallest child might have stronger lung power than the smallest, shortest child. The fastest runner might have stronger lung power than the slowest runner. BUT, that's just a guess. It's not necessarily true. It all depends on how efficient the rocket design is in using the lung power. I try to have the kids think about all these factors before we build the strawckets.

Supplies List: 
  • Boba straws (these are wider straws for pearl drinks served at restaurants, and Asian smoothie shops)
  • 8 1/2 in x 2  3/4in strips of paper (fold a copy paper width-wise half, and then half again, giving you four pieces of  8 1/2 in x 2  3/4in strips)
  • Index cards
  • Scotch Tape
Building Instructions:
  1. Wrap the paper around the straw and tape it down the seam. Make sure it doesn't stick to the straw, and that the straw can slide in and out easily.
  2. On one end, create a cone, and put a piece of tape around it.
  3. Now, put the partially built rocket on your straw and blow it. It won't fly very well.
  4. Now, cut out fins from a piece of an index card and tape it on the rocket. Any place you choose.
  5. Now, blow it and see how it flies. If it doesn't fly well, take it apart or build another one to make it fly better. Engineering is all about failure and overcoming that failure.
 When I do this project, I have two challenges:

1. Farthest distance
2. Trickiest rocket - boomerang and tight spiral (what I'm looking for is an indication that there was some thought behind the design)

Sometimes I change things around by asking the kids for accuracy, but they kids are pretty challenged year after year by just first two challenges.

Here are some pictures from recent classes:
From a 3rd grade class
1st 5th grade class - Distance Rocket Winners
1st 5th grade class - Spiral Trick Rocket Winners
1st 5th grade class - Boomerang Trick Rocket Winners 

2nd 5th grade class - Distance Rocket Winners
2nd 5th grade class - Trick Rocket Winners
I was stunned by the creativity of the students, but these two designs were AMAZING!

Even with the airfoil, I thought this would be too heavy with all the index card paper, but it flew beautifully.  Every time. Won the design award.
This design had a beautiful, really tight spiral, but after the tape came off, we couldn't duplicate the trick flight. But I did see it, and I couldn't deny her the design award.
Some other awesomely crazy designs are:

I tell the kids that I want them to push the envelope. Don't play safe. Think outside the box. Failure is good (one of the project's motto is Fail Spectacularly!), and I was extremely happy with this group of kids. I have more classes coming up this week, but I think it'll be hard to beat these designs. 

I might update if there's a mind-blowing one.

Enjoy and build with your kids.

NOTE: The project idea came from The Tech Museum's website a few years ago.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Awesome Books - The Naming Jar by Yangsook Choi

One of the teachers I work with at my daughter's elementary school introduced me to this book, and I absolutely loved it. Let me tell you why.

My family and I immigrated to the US when I was ten-years-old from South Korea. Though, at the time, I found consolation in my false impressions that my father spoke English, but I soon found out how little English he actually spoke at the time. Due to lack of English language skills, my brothers and I were teased quite often, but more than anything, our weird names painted big, fat target on our backs.

My Korean name is Ryoung Ah. This is enunciated with the silent R, usually, but the correct enunciation rolls the R in front of the y. But how could the kids in my 4th grade have known? They had to make do with a jumble of letters that you just don't see in American names very often. So, my name got butchered from Rye-young-gah to R-youn-gah, to any number of unwieldy sounds. But I didn't have the courage to correct any of them. One of my brother's name is Dong Hwan, but it got changed to Ding Dong. Dong Dong, etc. The other brother's name is Kyung Tai, but it got changed to Kee-young-tie, etc.

Needless to say, changing Korean names to American names sounded like a good idea, and we did. But even in this, my path to finding an American name of my own wasn't smooth. I liked Christine. Christine Kim had a nice ring to it. So, the next day, I went to school and told another Korean girl that beginning next Monday, I was going to everyone to call me Christine. Well, that "friend" had told everyone to call her Christine after the first recess, and I was left out in the cold. I had to start my search for an American name all over again. Finally, by the end of next week, I settled on Jennifer. I don't even remember if I particularly liked the name, but I chose it because I knew no one else named Jennifer.

With all these stories behind how I ended up with my name, I enjoyed this wonderful book and loved the choice she made. I think it was the right choice for her, but I also realize that I made the right choice for me.

I am Jennifer Ryoung Ah Kim.

P.S. I thought I should add this funny story. When we first got here, my brothers and I were desperate to make friends, and wondered why it was so hard to make friends.... Well, before we started school, my Korean-American uncle taught us a phrase that supposed to keep us out of trouble.

The phrase was... I can't speak English. Please, leave me alone.

What?!? I know.

Even now, I have a hard time believing that my uncle actually taught us the phrase thinking it would solve all kinds of problems. And here we were, wondering why we couldn't make any friends.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Awesome Books - Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

This book surprised me in a couple of ways.

I'm pretty good at guessing the ending of the book. Maybe it's because I'm a writer, but I can consistently guess the ending. However, I had no idea how this book would end, and even a few tendrils of ideas I had, nothing worked out the way I thought it might.

The book rating on the back cover said Ages 10 and Up, but I'm not sure I agree with that. There is a certain viciousness in this book that startled and shocked me. I didn't expect it from such a young character. Although a lot of books have Ages so and up, usually the kids who are at least 2 or 3 years younger start to read up to the age rating. At that point, I feel that this book is not appropriate for kids who are younger than 10. AND I wouldn't let my daughter read it until she's about 11 or 12.

HOWEVER, I enjoyed this book, and I'd like to recommend it to anyone who likes a good action/adventure. That is anyone older than 10, but probably 12.

Spoiler Alert~

Ender lives in a dangerous world where the Aliens nicknamed "buggers" have invaded the earth twice already. Every Earthlings' life is predicated by the impending third bugger invasion.

In this world of limited resources and impending doom, Ender is also a dreaded "third." In a world where there is two-child-per-family policy, being a "third" itself is a reason for derision. He is picked on by his classmates, and he is harassed by his older brother who resents him for being more talented and capable of meeting the demands of military training.

But he is a cunning, ruthless, military genius, and he is sent to Battle School to hone his strategic and tactical skills pitted against other brilliant students of Battle School. There, he excels once again by coming up with mock battle plans that surprise and impress his superiors. His team never loses a battle, no matter how it is outnumbered and disadvantaged. His successes in Battle School convince his teachers to Command School, skipping several years of additional training.

In Command School, he is isolated from the rest and interacts mostly with his mentor, the previous conflict's war hero, Mazer. He spends most of his time fighting buggers in simulation, and he is depressed by the endless simulations and isolated existence.

For his "final" test, Ender's fleet is outnumbered by the buggers by a lot, and he sacrifices most of his fighters to launch a weapon that destroyed the entire bugger planet. Ender thinks this act of rebellion will get him kicked out of Command School. Instead, he learns that the "simulations" weren't simulations. In fact, they represented the actual international fleet, buggers' fleet, and buggers' home world. Ender has won the bugger war for the humanity.

Winning the bugger war has opened a bigger can of worms on Earth where various powers fight amongst themselves for the control. Due to his capabilities, he cannot return to Earth. He decides to become a colonist on one of the buggers' worlds. There he learns that bugger invasions were based on misunderstandings and mistakes, and he finds a dormant egg of the bugger queen. In the end, he and his sister board a starship to search for a safe world to establish another bugger colony.

I skipped a big chunk of plot that involves his brother and sister, but I wanted to concentrate on Ender. I really enjoyed the strategy and tactics Ender used to win his mock battles in Battle School and Command School; however, I had problems with what finally led to Ender's entry into Battle School and Command School. His brutal beating of a classmate bully lands him not in jail, but in coveted Battle School. And when he is ambushed, he responds with overwhelming force, and it gets him promoted to Command School. In both cases, his opponents are dead. It's this rewarding of his ruthlessness that I find objectionable.

However, I did enjoy the book. In fact, I'll probably read it again. It made me think about a lot of things, from space colonization to alien life forms to morality of preemptive strike, communication obstacles between two vastly different species, etc. Though I did have some reservations, I would recommend the book to those who enjoy action or sci-fi.  

PS - I also read Ender's Shadow, and the same brutality, cunning, and ruthlessness are threaded in this book for a main character who is even younger (starts out at 4), and I just couldn't recommend the book. And I didn't enjoy it. It was too much, but I finished, hoping that things would change. It didn't.