Addley Sanford launches her rocket down the hall at Houghtaling Elementary

Addley Sanford launches her rocket down the hall at Houghtaling Elementary during a program with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry on Feb. 24. Staff photo by Christopher Mullen

Houghtaling Elementary School students this past week were given opportunities to explore science, technology, engineering and math activities with guest instructors who visited from the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, Oregon.
OMSI instructors Nicole Donovan and Lizzy Coryell worked with students in classroom projects and, on Tuesday evening, led an science-themed Family Night event, as well.
In an email to the Daily News, Houghtaling fifth-grade teacher Debbie Merle explained that OMSI instructors had visited the school before the pandemic, so she reached out to the organization to set up another program this year.
The program was funded through the school’s Parent-Teacher Association, which holds fundraisers throughout the year, Merle noted.
During the Family Night event, Donovan asked for student volunteers in the audience to assist her in conducting several demonstrations.
Donovan described the night’s experiments that attendees could look forward to.
“We are going to be thinking about molecules and how molecules are little tiny things that make up everything. How they might act, how they might change,” she said.
She then invited a student to join her to play “three-cup Monty,” that involved her pouring water into one cup, surprising onlookers when her volunteer turned the cup over to find that a polymer had been created, and nothing poured out.
She then explained how the molecules can change into a fluid, solid, plasma, polymer or gaseous state, depending on how they are arranged.
She also demonstrated air pressure and weather.
Donovan told the audience, concerning weather, “there are two main things that we think about. … We think about temperature … the other part of the weather that’s very important is pressure.”
She then set up weather demonstrations using heat and a balloon, as well as an experiment using air pressure to create a “cloud” inside a 2-liter bottle. She also set up a demonstration of how water or air of different temperatures separates into layers.
Her next demonstrations explored chemical reactions.
Donovan told the audience that one way a scientist can tell if there has been a chemical reaction is that “an unexpected color change” might be seen. She then was joined by a student volunteer and they used colored liquids to experiment with observing and predicting chemical reactions.
In another experiment, Donovan asked a student volunteer to dump baking soda from a balloon attached to the mouth of a bottle into some vinegar. The onlooking students exclaimed and clapped when the gases produced suddenly filled the balloon.
“We have something new — we have carbon dioxide gas which filled our balloon,” Donovan told audience members.
An audience favorite was the “elephant toothpaste” demonstration, during which Donovan created a tubular fountain of colored foam that resembled a giant curl of striped toothpaste. The young crowd clapped and shouted in glee as it erupted from its container.
“This is a really cool chemical reaction,” Donovan said.
She said that it was an example of an exothermic reaction, emitting heat.
In her next demonstration, Donovan talked about the chemical reactions involved in creating fire. She explained that a fire needs oxygen, fuel and an ignition source. She used dry coffee creamer, candles and a glass container to allow a volunteer student to ignite a tall flame from the fine creamer particles.
One of the many smaller class sessions taught by Donovan and Coryell was held Friday morning with Houghtaling teacher Morgan Drake’s third-grade class. In that class, the OMSI teachers led the students in building and flying air-powered rockets.
Written on a white board in the classroom was: Engineers Solve Problems! Under that heading was listed the process by which they solve them: See the problem, Think of an idea, Try the idea, Improve the idea, Try again!
The templates for four different rocket designs were printed on white card stock, and the students were instructed to pick any one of the designs that interested them. The cylindrical rocket bodies were of three different lengths, and three templates offered three fins for the rockets and one template offered four fins.
Coryell advised the students before they started to construct (them,) the rockets: “I want us to think about the things that make our rockets successful. So, if we look at this rocket, it has some parts that we can see. What are some things that make a rocket a rocket?”
One student noted that the cone is one unique aspect of a rocket. Coryell then asked the students to consider how the cone might affect a rocket’s ability to fly. One student answered that without the cone, the air would push against the flat, less aerodynamic nose of the rocket.
Coryell then asked the students to think of how the flat sides of a kite make it slow until it turns its point into the wind allowing it to gain speed as a comparison to how the cone helps a rocket.
Coryell then asked if the students knew what the fins on the rocket would be useful for, and asked them to think of fish fins to make guesses. The students then called out “steering” as the fin function.
As the students prepared to choose their templates, Coryell advised them to consider “what makes a rocket go farther, what makes it go faster, what makes it do some cool tricks in the air.”
She also asked them to consider whether a longer-bodied rocket would go farther because it’s heavier, or if that would make it slower. She also asked them to consider how a four-finned rocket would handle compared to the three-finned models.
The students chose their templates, then had five minutes to color them with markers or crayons before cutting them out and taping them together.
While the students constructed their rockets, Donovan described some of the other projects they’d been working on with students in other classes.
The fourth, fifth and sixth graders created “jitterbugs,” she said, that could scribble patterns on paper. They used batteries, motors and circuitry to build the little machines.
The kindergartners and first-graders completed “float your boat” projects that included “float or sink” games.
Donovan said that the floating challenges allowed students to create small watercraft that they then tested for buoyancy by adding marbles to them. Another project focused on experimenting with water displacement.
There also was a larger group assembly held, she said, where they performed demonstrations with electricity and other scientific principles.
Donovan said that their main goal in working with the students is “that they can find science in their everyday lives and be creative problem-solvers. My favorite part of my job is to just make science more approachable for people that might think that, ‘I don’t like this’ or like so many parts of science that — there’s something for everybody, I think. We just love to get kids engaged and create that positive relationship from a young age.”
Student Addley Sanford shared her thoughts about the rocket class as she finished taping her rocket together.
“I like the fins part,” she said.
Student Josie Hamilton mentioned the assembly as a memorable experience, where she learned about electricity and fire.
Hamilton noted that creating the cone for her rocket had been the most challenging project during the week of special classes.
Student Coraline Ringstad, assembling her rocket alongside Hamilton and Sanford, shared her thoughts on how she thought the different rockets would perform.
“I know that fins can change how things fly or how things move, so a number of fins count on how far it goes. I think since we have a different number of fins, I think ours are going to fly differently,” Ringstad said.
Sanford hypothesized that her rocket “might fly fast.”
The excitement in the air was crackling as the students finally gathered in the hallway outside of the classroom to launch their rockets. Their voices were hushed so as to not disturb other classrooms, but they excitedly whispered to each other and fidgeted in anticipation as they lined up.
The OMSI teachers lugged the bicycle-pump powered air launcher into the hallway and loaded the first rocket onto the cylindrical launching tube.
Muted cheers went up as each rocket blasted down the hallway.
After the launches, the group gathered back into the classroom to talk about how their rockets performed. Some rockets zigzagged off course, and there was discussion about how a couple of them had their fins attached upside down, and how that might have affected their flights.
Coryell asked the students to consider how the shorter-bodied rockets flew compared to the smaller rockets. One student commented that they seemed to get a burst of speed sooner, but that they had more difficulty keeping a straight line in the air.
As the students gathered their rockets in preparation to return to their regular classrooms, they chatted with each other about how their rockets had performed.
As Coryell and Donovan prepped for their next class, they mentioned that they planned to fly back to Oregon the next day, and Donovan said, “We’ve been having a great week.”