Space Unit day 2: What Sam Needs is a Rocket Ship
During circle time, the kids were engaged and excited about the books and songs. Normally, Leslie plays guitar while we sing but this time Maya asked if we could get out the instrument box so everyone could play an instrument. We pulled out the instruments and let them jam along as we sang.
Then we reviewed what we had talked about last time – the virtually inescapable pull of Earth’s gravity. The kids shared the worksheets they had finished for homework. By this point, they were getting pretty antsy. We actually sent them off to play for 10 minutes to burn off some steam before returning to discuss our next topic. When they were ready to focus again, we pulled out Sam the puppet. Sam asserted that he really wants to leave Earth and wants more information about how to overcome gravity. The kids enthusiastically told him about rocket ships. They described the basic shape – cylindrical body, cone top and fins on the side, and pretty accurately described a rocket launch. I asked what was inside the rocket ship that allows them to launch like that, and we talked together about fuel burning and building up so much pressure that the rocket can escape gravity. I explained about the separation process and how pieces of the rocket ship break off as their fuel is depleted. Maya was skeptical about the idea that pieces of so we pulled up a video of a rocket launch separation and watched it together.
At that point we began our first activity – film canister rockets. We placed a half of an alka seltzer tablet in a film canister, added some water, quickly put on the lid, placed the film canister upside down on the ground and moved back. After about 20 seconds, the pressure built to the point that the canister shot into the air. We repeated this a few times, but the kids got tired of it fairly quickly. Not a shock – due to safety concerns this was more of a demonstration than a hands-on activity. Exciting, but not much to experiment with. So then we got out our rocket balloons. The process is simple -we inflate the balloon and pinch the end without tying it. The kids took turns holding the balloon while we all did a countdown. Then they let the balloons go and they rocketed into the sky or across the yard, and the kids would dash off to retrieve them. We filled them up and let them fly over and over again.
After multiple balloon launches, I set up an extension to our balloon rocket play. I got a long length of cord, attached one end to one chair and slid a large straw onto the cord. I attached the other end to another chair and pulled the cord taut. We blew up a balloon, and holding the end we taped it to the straw. We counted down, and then let it go. The balloon rocketed along the string to the other end. We repeated this again and again, the kids all taking turns launching the balloons. We experimented with different sizes and shapes of balloons, and different ways of launching.
After a break for lunch, we briefly revisited the rocket balloons (launching them into the air). Then we turned on some music and had a dance party. The kids danced to some space and science songs.
The film canister rockets and balloons were very fun, but neither activity really provided the true open-ended free play that I want to always include. My initial thought had been to pull out some baking soda and vinegar and let the kids loose for some serious science, but it was cold. That kind of play is much less fun on cold days. So instead, I decided to go the ‘open crafting’ route. I got out a large variety of craft materials and told the kids it was time to build Sam a rocketship. I made a rocketship for Sam from box cardboard, and let the kids decorate it. The kids were free to either assist me or do their own projects with the available materials. We also had a fire going in the fire pit to combat the cold. The kids moved back and forth between working with various craft materials, warming up by the fire, and playing in the yard. This went on for several hours. It quickly became apparent that just one cardboard rocket ship would not do, and I made rocket ships for each of the kids. They decorated their rocket ships, loaded them up with stuffed animals, and charged around the yard, engaging in some excellent pretend play.
We ended the day by going inside briefly and watching the ‘gravity’ videos on YouTube the kids had picked as their favorite. We discussed adding some TV calm down time to the end of each school day – it was a nice way to end all the busyness. In reflection now, I am definitely happy with how our school has been going. Several times during the day, Leslie and I couldn’t help observing to each other that our efforts were clearly and visibly paying off. The kids were happier and more settled than they’d been in weeks. Over the course of the day, they went off together and played happily and independently for long stretches. There were conflicts of course, but they had the emotional resources to be empathetic with each other and resolve their conflicts on their own without needing help from us, and they were just…happier.