Detroit youth build rockets, learn about engineering

Lauren Abdel-Razzaq
The Detroit News

Detroit — The island of Ceres is facing down disaster. After a massive tsunami hit the Pacific island, the surviving residents have been left with no food or water. Because of the extensive damage, helicopters are not a feasible option for delivering supplies.

Instead, a team of young scientists have been tasked with creating rockets that can safely transport the food to the islanders from the mainland.

This was the fictional situation a dozen Detroit children ages 7 to 15 faced Saturday during the 4-H National Youth Science Day at Don Bosco Hall’s gym on the city’s west side. The national rallying event for 4-H Science is an interactive learning experience designed to get youth excited about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and encourage involvement in engineering.

Under the guidance of Glenda Weiss, a former high school and middle school science teacher, the children learned about building and launching rockets carrying raisins using everyday materials like blank paper, pipe cleaners, straws and more. They used principles of propulsion and angles as they adjusted a PVC pipe launcher powered by an empty pop bottle. A leap onto the bottle and — pop! — the rocket would launch into the air.

The idea was to hit a target on the other side of the gym.

“They’re testing angles to see what is going to work,” said Weiss, who taught for 29 years in Millington, near Frankenmuth, before being laid off two years ago during budget cuts. “Then they’re going to have to design a mode for them to transport the raisins safely.”

Weiss has been traveling across Metro Detroit with the program, called Rockets to the Rescue. It was designed by University of Arizona Cooperative Extension and selected as the winning experiment for the seventh annual 4-H National Youth Science Day because it deals with science, engineering and food safety. The hope to is get children interested in science at a young age, in the hopes that they will continue to be interested as they grow older.

A study conducted by Tufts University on 4-H programs concluded they do get more people involved in science. According to the study, 4-H’ers between 10th and 12th grade are two times more likely to participate in science programs during out-of-school time.

4-H girls in 10th and 12th grade are two and three times more likely to take part in science programs outside of school, respectively, than other girls.

Khareah Walker, 11, and his sister Kajhana, 10, participated in the program Saturday and said they enjoyed learning about engineering.

“I learned how it might be great to be an engineer when I grow up,” said Khareah Walker. “I learned how to take something from scrap and build it into something useful.”

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