Rocket sleds power STEM education at FPU

A group of 52 area teachers didn’t wait for July 4 for a little “rocket’s red glare.”

Engineering in the Classroom Festival participants learned engineering skills the week of June 19-23 at Fresno Pacific University. That Friday they put their lessons on display bench testing rocket sled recovery systems.

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The teachers—representing schools from Madera County to Kern County—worked in teams to design and build the sleds, powered by model rocket engines. Fuses were lit in sessions starting at 8:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. and the sleds shot down the sidewalk in front of Hiebert Library on the main campus, 1717 S. Chestnut Ave., Fresno. NASA and other entities have used full-size sleds to test aircraft, space and missile components. These miniature versions, created from scratch, tested deceleration units and parachutes.

The point of this not-so-top-secret research was for teachers to pass what they learned on to their students, some of whom may one day work on projects like this for real. More and more, teachers are being asked to teach scientific and engineering processes, according to Chris Brownell, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematics and STEM education, a member of the festival faculty. In building and testing these sleds, participants did all the necessary math and engineering.

The exercise addressed California Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards as well as STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). “These are all big ideas in education,” Brownell said.


Wayne Steffen
Associate Director of Publications and Media Relations