Straw Rockets Launch STEM Experience for Neurodiverse Students

For students at New Story Schools Monroeville in Southwestern Pennsylvania, all it took was one inspiring story about the inventor of the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket. Learning about Dr. Robert Goddard not only brought STEM to life, it also got them excited for their first-ever Straw Rockets hands-on classroom challenge as part of their Extended School Year (ESY) summer program.

From the start, it was obvious the students were excited to be a part of something beyond typical textbook learning. As part of the SAE A World In Motion™ (AWIM™) Straw Rockets Challenge, students receive a letter from the President of Earth Toy Designs, Inc., a fictitious company looking for help testing materials for use in an upcoming rocket toy game.

new story schools straw rockets stem challenge

Once they read the letter, two students immediately started working on a name and tagline of their own. Playtime Jesters: We put the fun in play. They even talked about making their own commercial, using typical advertiser inflections as they repeated their new tagline. After finishing their creative elements, it was time to start building their rockets.

Every day, the students were eager for 12:30-1:15pm so they could have a chance to work on their own designs. Being a neurodiverse classroom serving students experiencing social, emotional, educational, and behavioral challenges, it was really important to create an individualized experience recognizing different strengths in different areas.

One student volunteered to use the measuring tape to measure the distance their rockets traveled. Another offered to be the materials handler.

“Oh wow! Look how far my rocket traveled.” For many students, the most exciting part of the challenge was seeing how far they could get their rocket to travel more than competing against their classmates. Should they use a big puff to launch their straw rocket? A small puff? Point the straw up in the air? Or point it straight ahead?

As they worked on their rockets, teacher Amber Gazda quickly noticed her students were able to express their ideas and talk about the scientific process. “This experience was new for everyone. With a hands-on STEM activity like Straw Rockets the students are encouraged to ask bigger, critical thinking questions.”

Once the challenge was complete, each student at New Story Schools Monroeville received their own certificate which they all really appreciated. They also came away with a new sense of pride and ownership of their classroom. From the placement of a rocket poster to their new space-themed carpet, they worked together to make the classroom their own. One student who will be moving to a new school in the fall was so disappointed she wouldn’t get to see the classroom (or here: in the fall), she even offered to come back for a few weeks.

“The experiments were so good for our classroom. They activated a lot of learning. The rocket theme also tied into our S.TA.R.S. classroom behavior program which the students take very seriously,” Gazda added.

Based on the success of the program, there are plans to expand in the fall to five classrooms with the AWIM JetToy Challenge.

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