With the press of a button, a homemade rocket was launched hundreds of feet into the air above John Howitt Elementary School. Students cheered as they crouched behind a plywood board for safety—only to scatter as the tiny rocket came crashing down a few seconds later.
Students with the John Howitt Rocketeers program took turns launching their homemade rockets from the school’s top field on Thursday, May 13.
The Rocketeers program was started three years ago, after Applied Design, Skills and Technologies was added to BC’s curriculum.
“When Applied Design came into the curriculum, we had to think of new things to do,” explained Lauraleah Jeffery, a Grade 6 and 7 teacher at John Howitt.
In a normal year, students would cycle through the Rocketeers program. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, only one class is participating in the launch this year.
The Rocketeers program came from Scott MacLeod. MacLeod got the idea from his son, a former John Howitt student who recently graduated from the University of Victoria (UVic). MacLeod’s son was a member of the university’s rocket club, which designs and builds competitive sounding rockets. MacLeod started looking into ways this program could be implemented in elementary schools.
“I thought it might be something that would inspire students to get involved in engineering and science,” said MacLeod.
MacLeod comes to the school every year with a launch pad to help the rockets take off. As an RCMP constable, MacLeod doesn’t have a background in engineering, but he gained most of his knowledge of rockets from internet research and YouTube demonstrations.
The John Howitt students’ sounding or practice rockets are built entirely from recycled materials—things like cardstock, cardboard, shredded credit cards, plastic straws and grocery bags. Each of the rockets is installed with a real engine to send it flying into the air.
“They have to make a plan, decide on materials,” said Jeffery. “It’s all about the design procedure. The kids love it.”
The task, she said, is for the rocket to fly.
“If it doesn’t, we reflect at the end and talk about why it didn’t work,” said Jeffery.
This year’s Rocketeers program had some help from real-life scientists. Videos were sent to the students from NASA, UVic and McGill University, with scientists and science students wishing John Howitt good luck on their launch.
“Their careers all started from building these [rockets],” MacLeod told students on Thursday. “Keep it up, and one day you could be working for NASA.”