The 30 rocket scientists waited around the launch pad, counting down until launch.

Would the rocket launch? Would it stay on course? Would it explode on the pad?

At zero, with a pop, the rocket shot through the sky, then landed in a tree.

To the sixth- through eighth-grade students at Central Washington University’s 2013 Quest Math and Science Camp, the air-pressure powered water bottle rocket launches Tuesday were a rousing success, and a cool way to spend the day.

This is the third year Central has put on the week-long camp, and this year, the theme is all about energy, said Martha Kurtz, camp director and CWU science education professor.

Camp activities dabble in mechanical, hydraulic, biological, electrical, electro-chemical, light and sound and nuclear energy, she said.

For example, the kids’ first activity was a photo scavenger hunt. The goal was to show as many types of energy in three shots as possible.

“They are pretty creative, actually,” Kurtz said.

Loving math and science

Most of the kids are drawn to the camp because they already enjoy science or math. Others need to be convinced.

On the first day, campers went on tour of CWU’s lab facilities, and met and spoke to scientists at work in their labs, Kurtz said.

“Sometimes, school math and science can be a little dry, compared to real world stuff,” she said. “We told them (Monday) morning this is not school. We want you to have fun, we’re going to be doing a lot of active things.”

Other activities through the week include burning food under fume hoods to calculate calories, measuring animal respiration by catching insects and frogs in jars (and later releasing them, Kurtz assured), and more advanced, loud, exploding and flying physics and chemistry demonstrations.

Water rockets

At the water rocket launch, kids guessed the best air-to-water ratios for the rockets. Camp mentors, CWU teaching students, attached the 1- and 2-liter bottles to the pad, pressurized the bottle with a bike pump and pulled the launch cord.

Shawnee Ledbetter, one of the student teachers at camp, said the camp was a good opportunity to work with kids.

Since student teachers might not get to work with kids as often as they’d like in education classes, Ledbetter said the chance to test out what works and what doesn’t is a welcome opportunity.

She said the teaching students work with the camp directors to figure out the best way to teach and conduct different activities in a camp setting.

“We have to plan lessons, go over safety stuff, so we went through the whole process of what teachers will go through,” she said.

Ledbetter helped with the mousetrap car races, an exercise in mechanical energy, on Tuesday.

Campers built mousetrap-powered cars and competed for distance, acceleration and — since form also matters in engineering, and because some designs broke — coolness, she said.

Lincoln Elementary School’s Rowan Utzinger, 11, said the first car her group made at camp worked well, but only in theory.

“The axles broke off, and then it went like, 3 inches, maybe,” she said.

Luckily, she and her father built her own car the night before because she was so excited about the project. She brought the car to camp to show the teachers.

Her group was able to scrape together another model based on her homemade design in an hour, and the new car, dubbed the Hummingbird, won the speed contest.

To power the car, Rowan and her group tied the other end of a string wrapped around an axle to the trap’s bar piece. Triggering the trap would pull the string and spin the axle.

“We also made a backup one in case this one didn’t work,” she said. “We just made a tiny Styrofoam car and put it on the mousetrap and just launched it across the room.”

Rowan said she loves to build “contraptions,” and her current project is taking apart a friend’s old VCR.

“I’m really excited to do the rest of the camp, because it’s really a lot more fun than I expected,” she said. “It’s been really interesting and challenging. They don’t teach you random facts, they actually let you do hands-on stuff.”


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