Freshman physics class really taking off

11/23/2010 9:48 PM |

Last month, they made the rockets, and on Monday morning, the students in Riverhead High School teacher Greg Wallace’s freshman physics class got to fire them off.
“We had a few technical difficulties, but we’re working through them,” said Mr. Wallace. “The rockets are going anywhere between 100 and 500 feet depending on the design. It’s a nice, fun activity before Thanksgiving.”
One rocket actually went 550 feet in the air, Mr. Wallace said. That was in the early-morning class, before the wind kicked in.
In the later class, the wind carried a few of them from the middle of the field behind the high school parking lot all the way across the running track and into the woods.
Thanks in part to a grant from the National Science Foundation and Adelphi University, about 43 freshmen are now taking Regents physics courses, a class normally reserved for juniors and seniors. The Long Island Science Center in downtown Riverhead also has been working with the students, who have made several visits there, including one last month during which they built their rockets.
Mr. Wallace said a goal of the program is to get kids interested in physics at an earlier age.
For the rocket project, each student was given the same basic materials to use in creating a rocket: a cardboard tube, a plastic nose cone, two balsa wood fins, glue, scissors, sandpaper, tape and a rocket launcher. The lightweight rockets were probably only about a foot long and, Mr. Wallace said, the students who launched them Monday also used principles of trigonometry to measure how high their rockets went.
Educators from the Long Island Science Center were on hand to help.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for the children to put what they’ve learned in the classroom into practical experience and to have an opportunity to be able to see it in action,” said Delia Gibbs, director of the Long Island Science Center.
“They have to determine if they put the rocket together correctly, did they follow the instructions and, if not, can they correct it in the field or do they have to go back and do more research. They learn that everything doesn’t always work perfectly. You need to try and test and retest, which is a big part of science.”
tgannon@timesreview.com