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Learning takes flight at RMAC educational event

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Berrendo Middle School students react to the successful takeoffs of their bottle rockets during a science day at the Roswell Museum and Art Center Friday morning. Roswell Museum and Art Center employee Jim Wheeler observes the launches, having been among the coaches to help the youth make the rockets that used a mixture of vinegar and baking soda as the propulsion method. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Would a paper “rocket” work better with two fins or three? What type of energy transfer is involved when a domino falls over and pushes a toy car? Why didn’t a balloon that was part of a Rube Goldberg device pop as expected?

Berrendo Middle School students spent part of Friday working through such questions as they and science faculty from Goddard High School and staff with the Roswell Museum and Art Center built bottle rockets and spit rockets, and as students discussed the Rube Goldberg machines they had spent two weeks building.

The museum is holding its Science and Art Festival today, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., inside and outside the building on West 11th Street and North Richardson Avenue. Sponsored by Xcel Energy and the Sloan Foundation, the day is slated to include presentations by science experts; hands-on science activities and science demonstrations by schools from Roswell, other New Mexico cities and Texas; and artistic performances and workshops.

As part of the educational effort meant to enhance interest in STEAM — science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics — science faculty from Goddard High School and Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell have joined with the staff of the Roswell Museum and Art Center during the past few weeks to give some intensive science instruction to students at Berrendo, Sierra, Mesa and Sidney Gutierrez middle schools.

Part of the instruction involved building a Rube Goldberg machine. Using simple components such as pulleys, cardboard tubes, balloons and dominoes, teams of students created complicated devices — some with toy cars or Exacto blades or thread spools — designed to raise a team flag. Berrendo Middle School students demonstrated their devices Friday morning with science coaches standing by to offer suggestions for improvements and to question them on what they had learned and what they had enjoyed about the process.

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Berrendo Middle School youth also spent Friday building bottle rockets and spit rockets out of everyday materials such as pencils, paper and a plastic bottle. With a statute of Robert H. Goddard, the father of modern rocketry, not far from one of the launch areas, they had a chance to test out some of their ideas about what designs would give their rockets the most lift.

Speaking about the Rube Goldberg exercises, one student said she appreciated the scientific principles she was able to learn from the hands-on experiment.

“You learn a lot,” she said, “like how potential energy gets turned into kinetic energy.”

The Rube Goldberg Science Fair where local middle school students will demonstrate and talk about their projects will start at 10 a.m. today as part of the museum’s Science and Art Festival.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.