After four days of creating rockets propelled by rubber bands, seventh and eighth graders in Stephen F. Austin Middle School’s Odyssey Academy put their designs to the test Friday afternoon.

With a study of propulsion, potential energy and kinetic energy, the student teams raced each other along an elevated wire track. The competition gives the students a different way to understand the concepts discussed in class, Odyssey Academy Coordinator and eighth-grade robotics teacher Naveen Cunha said.

The project allows the students to challenge themselves to develop a design but also lets the teachers see what they can come up with, SFA Middle School seventh grader William Gardner said.

Many of the teams noted an important aspect of their rocket’s success was teamwork and collaborating together.

In addition to working together, the project included a lot of trial and error, with more errors than anything, said seventh grader Connor Clay, who was part of the winning team.

“Teamwork was the ultimate key,” he said, noting much of the construction of the rocket fell to he and his teammate Sebastian Chohan. “… I’m glad we were able to do this because it proves even if you are in small numbers, you still can complete what other people can do.”

Even before winning the contest — and a trophy — Clay called the contest a fun experience.

Though machines and vehicles in space do not use rubber band power, Cunha said, there was news over the summer that a small Mars helicopter will be aboard the Mars 2020 rover scheduled to launch in July 2020. The rover is expected to land on the Mars surface in February 2021 with the drone helicopter detaching to fly in Mars’ thin atmosphere as the first off-Earth helicopter.

“That is propeller driven,” Cunha said, “so things change and you just learn things along the way and modify your programs and projects. You never know how it’s going to affect the kids.”

The most important thing is to provide opportunities and let the students continue building upon the foundation those experiences provide, he said.

Deborah Mejia said she is happy her son, who is an eighth grader in SFA’s Odyssey Academy, is getting such opportunities in middle school.

“What they’re doing here, it’s working; it’s working great, and I’m excited about it,” she said. “I can’t wait to see what my son does in the future.”

One of the things that impressed Mejia was how collaborative the teachers are with each other, noting the English teachers gave the students the book Rocket Boys to read over the summer. That can then inspire the students to research a career field in engineering or rocketry.

“You can just tell they all partner together to make it happen, so that the kids can excel and be the best at whatever they do,” she said.

In seventh grade, her son’s teachers walked them through how to create a resume and had them complete research into different types of engineering and scientific fields and jobs that interested them.

“At this moment when they’re [formable], they’re actually helping to launch them into what they might do one day into different forms of the science field that I’ve never been able to do,” she said. “I just think it’s amazing what they’re doing.”

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