Students and teachers knew all was not lost when the rocket carrying the red wiggler worm project exploded last summer—now, as freshmen in high school, they’re at it again.
And another rocket, scheduled for launch in June, may take their reworked project with it.
The students attended eighth grade at Bell Middle School in Golden last year, and participated in iSTEM — which stands for innovation, science, engineering and math — classes together. Of the approximate 60 students who worked on the project last year, 12 return to Bell after school in their free time now to revamp the project.
“They’re busy kids — they choose to spend their afternoons working on the project,” said Jesse Swift, Bell Middle School iSTEM engineering teacher. “They were just out of seventh grade when they started working on it. Now, as ninth graders, they’re taking personal direction with it. I’m not their teacher anymore — I’m more like a team-member.”
The students’ dedication attracted the attention of Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colorado), who visited them on Dec. 14.
“It’s very important for me to see that they’re so focused on the future,” Perlmutter said. “They’re the engineers or biologists that could be the astronauts on Mars.”
One of his key goals, Perlmutter said, is to get astronauts on Mars by 2033.
The students’ science project began after Bell won a grant from the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space to design and build an experiment that would go to the International Space Station orbiting the earth. Bell was the only middle school awarded the grant and one of only three schools in Colorado chosen to participate.
During the previous academic year, the students designed and built a habitat for red wiggler worms to compost in a micro-gravity environment. However, the project never made it to the space station because it exploded along with the failed SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch on June 28.
The explosion was unfortunate, teachers said, but the learning experience has been invaluable.
The students will be able to apply the problem-solving skills they learned through the process of the experiment for the rest of their lives, Swift said. The design, skills and testing that went into the project did not explode with the rocket.
Students now have an opportunity to take what they’ve already learned and expand on it, said eighth-grade iSTEM science teacher Shanna Atzmiller.
“The basis of science learning,” she said, “is that you learn more from failure.”
So, this year, students started with what was already done, but made some modifications to the original project. And it looks like it may get to go up with SpaceX 10, which has a target launch date of June, Atzmiller said.
Perlmutter described the students as “engaged, enthusiastic and smart.”
“To see them come back to continue working on the project ,” he said, “is excitement in itself.”