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Kids at Willmar, Minn., science camp build bridges and shoot off rockets

Fourm News Service photo by Gary Miller Collin Bos, 9, left, and Myles Kinney, 10, watch a poultry processing machine operate. The demonstration was part of a talk by Seth Hammer, a electrical engineer with Nova-Tech. Bos and Kinney were two of the fourth and fifth grade students participating Tuesday July 23, 2003, in summer camp for the gifted and talented at the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar, Minn.1 / 2
Tribune photo by Gary Miller Shane Toutges, 9, left, and Zachary Flannigan, 10, work on a bridge. Toutges and Flannigan were two of the fourth and fifth grade students participating Tuesday, July 23, 2013, in summer camp for the gifted and talented at the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar, Minn.2 / 2

WILLMAR - A plastic 35mm film canister with an Alka Seltzer tablet and a bit of water inside makes a dandy little rocket. But if you make it more elaborate, will it fly higher?

About 50 fourth- and fifth-graders from Willmar's elementary schools learned to make the simple chemical rockets Tuesday afternoon at the second annual Mind Challenge Camp at MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar.

The students, mostly 9 and 10 years old, will be at the camp from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. each day through Thursday. The camp begins each day with a speaker who explains the importance of math, science or engineering in his or her job.

Last week, 50 students going into grades 6 and 7 attended a similar camp. Students were invited to the Mind Challenge Camp based on their standardized test scores in math.

Students split into three groups and rotated through two other learning activities in addition to learning about the carbon dioxide-powered rockets.

Other projects included building a popsicle stick bridge that will support 5 pounds and "rescuing" rubber duckies from a tub of water.

Middle School science teacher John Kuznik worked with the rocket makers. One by one, they dropped a piece of an Alka Seltzer tablet into the water, snapped the cap on the translucent 2-inch plastic canisters, shook them a bit and put them lid first on the ground. In 10 to 15 seconds, they popped up, some as high as 10 or 12 feet.

The campers used paper and tape to add nose cones and fins on their canisters. Kaylena Carranza, 9, of Willmar, said she thought they might fly higher, but she wasn't sure. The best part for her, she said, was going outside to watch the rockets pop up.

The campers found that the additions did not make their rockets fly higher. In fact, the canisters didn't pop nearly as high.

Kuznik asked them why that happened. They were full of suggestions: the weight of the paper and tape held them down; more Alka Seltzer might have built more pressure to make them fly higher. He nodded as they talked, acknowledging their good ideas.

The Wednesday project would be rockets with air pumps, he said.

Campers were asked to work in teams to figure out a way to get the small yellow, purple and pink rubber ducks out of the water without touching them or coming within five feet.

Jeff Winter, Willmar Middle School counselor, gave each half of his group a bag of materials. In the bags they found twine, clothespins, drinking straws, waxed paper, rubber bands and a pencil. Each group also received a yardstick.

When their first, elaborate attempts failed during the timed test of their efforts, both groups resorted to snagging the ducks in a noose and flipping them out of the water. It wasn't as easy as it might sound. Over 5 minutes, one group rescued four ducks, and the other had three.

Winter said he was impressed with their problem-solving abilities and success. "I did try it myself, and it's hard," he said.

Kennedy Elementary fifth-grade teacher Angie Michelson and Middle School science teacher Noelle Green supervised the bridge building. The bridges were to be 14 inches long and made only with the sticks and Tacky Glue. They need to be suspended between two chairs and bear the weight of a 5-pound kettle bell.

"Their goal is to use the least amount of sticks," with a limit of 200, Michelson said as she watched Shane Toutges, 9, a fourth-grader from Willmar, and Zachary Flannigan, 10, a fifth-grader from Svea, work on their design. They had used 20 sticks so far.

Asked if they were confident they would succeed, Zachary said he was, "kind of."

Green said she had seen a lot of interesting designs. "It's fun to see their minds at work," she added.

"I've gotten a lot of positive feedback" about the camp, Kuznik said, both from parents and kids.

The camp is sponsored by Willmar Middle School and is in partnership with MinnWest this year. A year ago, the camp met on the technology campus and people on the campus noticed it and started asking questions about what the kids were doing there.

Several of the campus businesses wanted to be involved, but couldn't commit their employees to the three-hour sessions each day, Winter said, so they have sent guest speakers. Other guest speakers come from Bushmills Ethanol and Peterson Brothers Funeral Homes.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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