The k_space event brought together educators and makers from across Asia to share ideas on teaching kids about space in a unique, hands-on way. The event was hosted by Karkhana in Kathmandu, October 20-29, 2016.
The participants chose to tackle one of the three projects statements, then worked in teams over the course of 10 days to develop and present their space curriculum concept. This is the story of Team Rocket.
- Objective: Build a better water bottle rocket and teach kids how to engage with it.
- Outcome: Tested and developed designs for safer launch, greater rocket height, and easier payload recovery. Developed a curriculum, and taught it to an actual elementary school class.
- Team: Leo Jofeh, Priya Joshi, Sona Maharjan, Sumit Bam Shrestha, Sunoj Shrestha.
Team Rocket hit the ground running. Soon after the team huddle at the end of the first day, they were off. They went to the open space in front of Karkhana and began field testing an existing rocket and launcher design. They began with the basics, using a plastic soda bottle for the body, a bucket of water for fuel, and a pedal pump to create the necessary pressure. The first launch worked but it wobbled a bit, made a big wet mess, and ended up on the roof.
Video of the water rocket team field testing:
The next morning they sat together and discussed their results.
“As a team we talked about what our priorities are as a design outcome,” said Leo Jofeh. “A big one is just making it usable and reliable for kids. And that involves very many things about design that you wouldn’t necessarily think about.” They determined that they wanted to improve the body design, build a better launchpad, and add a parachute for payload recovery.
They spent the day each building and testing prototypes, coming up with 3 or 4 viable designs.
“Mine sucked but Sona’s version worked nicely,” Priya Joshi admitted, jovially. The launcher was still making a mess. “We chose who was gonna hold the launcher and who was gonna get wet. I was the lucky one,” Priya laughed.
“I felt like yesterday was the first day we did concentrated work on the project,” Leo reported at the next morning check-in session. “The day before we were kind of playing and testing it out. And now we’ve established what we want to do, established some responsibilities, and we’ve made some big progress.”
Sunoj Shrestha described the team’s workflow process. “It’s TMPI: think, make, play, improve. That’s the basis of everything that we do,” he said. “There are lots of really small incremental improvements, trying, discussing, testing it. Like, ‘Ok, maybe we need to move the fins down,’ and then test it and see the result. There was also the teamwork and the discussion and the feedback. That’s how we kept getting better.”
“I feel confident about the rocket now,” Leo said. “I’m still a little intimidated by the launcher because we haven’t made any effort to do it. I feel like we have to buy things and make real decisions about how to move forward.”
They kept pushing themselves. After a few days of the hands-on approach, the team went off and did some reading to teach themselves aeronautic principles, and research how to further optimize their designs. They were able connect the theory with the practical problems they had been trying to solve, such as the best size of the rocket (longer) and how much water to put in the bottle (less).
The team split intro two groups make efficient use of the limited time.
“Priya, Sona and Sumit were working on rocket design, so they built a nice cone, and they were concerned with things like coefficient and drag and center of gravity for the rocket,” Leo said. They were also figuring out how to fold the parachute and where to put the fins.
“Sunoj & I spent time designing the launcher,” Leo said, “because the existing one is pretty difficult to use. You can’t really squeeze your hand in there. It’s made with sharp bits of wood. And if it’s wet already from being used then the wood swells up and that locks the launch pins in place. So we’re thinking about materials we can use. I think we’re going to end up using plastic and laser cutting it.”
Fortunately Karkhana had a brand new laser cutting machine right on their premises. As the deadline loomed closer, they two groups rushed to finalize their work.
“Leo and I are working on designing the parts in the 3D modelling, basically all day and all night,” laughed Sunoj. “It is fun learning the new tool, and new techniques like the 3D 360 software.”
At the end of each day the two sub-teams would come together to check in with each other, and connect how their separate components fit together. The followed the same process to develop the accompanying teaching curriculum as well.
All throughout the development process the team remained very focused and results-oriented. The pushed themselves to stick to self-imposed deadlines and do as much as they could within a realistic timeframe. They finished early and were able to setup for the k-space final day presentation in a relaxed frame of mind, while the other teams were scrambling in last-minute panic.
Though the team showcased their work at Karkhana on the final day of k_space, the best exhibition of their handiwork came the day before, when they ran an actual event at a local school. Team Rocket ran a two-hour session on October 28 with an enthusiastic fifth grade class of the Sanskriti International School in Kathmandu.
Everyone on the team had prior teaching experience, so the classroom was very much their comfort zone. The lesson plan had been very carefully planned and outlined. “We kept improving the lesson plan,” said Sunoj, “just like we had with the rocket.”
“Priya and Sona worked on the initial part of the curriculum and put it on the Google drive, and then we all looked at it and discussed the whole flow and made some changes, like what questions to ask, what kind of demonstrations we want to do, like how to demonstrate Newton’s Law of Motion without telling them it’s Newton’s Law of Motion. So there were lots of small changes and suggestions from the team,” Sunoj said.
Sunoj led the event, in the classic Karkhana style.
“When you’re doing an event, you want a lot of energy. You have to build up the curiosity, and you’re also trying to find out what kids already know and build on that. That’s why we make them draw things. We don’t want to tell them you need fins, you need parachutes or anything.
After some ice-breakers, he introduced some concepts through some interactive exercises. They did a word association game, then he had asked them to draw something that flies or swims.
The rest of the team assisted the class, walking around and engaging with the students and asking questions about their drawings. “That was part of the lesson plan, asking lots of ‘why’ questions and ‘what’ questions, like ‘Why does a fish have fins?’ or ‘Why does this have a pointed top?’ to teach them about aerodynamics.”
Next they had the children break into small groups and build their own bottle rockets. Then they all went out to the basketball courts and launched everyone’s rockets, which was an exuberant affair that drew cheering crowds of students from other classes. As they launched each rocket, they discussed how it was performing, what design factors might have lead to that behavior (e.g. wobbling due to body length), essentially recreating the TMPI process with the students that the team had just undergone themselves.
Finally, the team launched their own optimized rocket, which reached a great height, released its parachute, and landed gracefully. The parachute came as a surprise to the students, eliciting a delighted gasp, and making the moment dramatic and memorable for the crowd.
This was the best experience I’ve ever had in class,” said Aakarshen Sharma, 11 years old. “I really enjoyed the spirit of my friends, and how Karkhana tried to teach us to feel interest in our studies. I feel lucky to have been a part of it.”