Tag Archives: tinkering

Making Rockets and More…

I spent yesterday at UC Davis at a conference we threw for ourselves to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the California Writing Project.  The conference was an opportunity to teach each other strategies, structures, and approaches that we find successful at our local writing project sites across the state…and to learn together.  And we did that…and more.

At lunchtime there was an informal “making” session led by the director of the Northern California Writing Project.  Using transparency film (Finally!  A practical use for the boxes of the stuff schools have sitting around since document cameras have replaced overhead projectors.), colored electrical tape, cardboard, and hot glue, we crafted rockets (using a piece of pvc pipe as a mold).


We would then test them by firing them from a bicycle pump, air powered launcher.  (Directions on Instructable…here) You’ll notice we sealed the tops and taped around them in hopes they would soar…rather than explode.


When our rockets were ready, we headed outside with the launcher and our rockets to test our creations.  We had to place our rocket on the launch pad and then pump with the bicycle pump to build pressure in the system.  We aimed for between 50 and 60 pounds of pressure.


After pumping, we pressed a button to release the pressure into our rockets and… POW!!! They shot high into the air and then turned down to land in the grass.


I’m looking forward to offering my students more opportunities to build and test and tinker.  They might be building and launching rockets some day soon.

And building these rockets in much like the work we do in the writing project. At the San Diego Area Writing Project we build programs to support teachers and students with writing and writing instruction.  Then we test them out, paying close attention to how they “fly”–what design elements are working, where do we need to tweak our design?  What can we do to help these programs and approaches meet the “mark” we are aiming for?  And then we continue to tinker. How can we make this work better?  What improvements are needed?  Which teachers and students are we reaching?  Who is missing?

I had a lot of fun building and testing rockets with my friends and colleagues yesterday.  And I love building and testing programs for teachers and students.  Writing itself is a lot like building a rocket.  Writers need opportunities to compose and test, get some feedback, and then tinker (or start over) until it gets closer to the desired target.  Sometimes it takes some tangible tinkering with rocket design to remind me of all the tinkering that happens in my life and in my classroom and in our writing project.

So, go out and tinker today…  What rockets have you launched lately?

Tinkering with Design

Tinkering…  My students experimented with design this week…and then tinkered with their design after talking about it with their classmates.

Based on a nonfiction article about how zoos are experimenting with keeping their animals stimulated–including designing toys based on animals’ natural behaviors, we invited our students to try their hands at designing a toy for a favorite zoo animal.

They drew and labeled and explained their designs.  And evaluated their own and classmates’ designs by asking a few questions:  Is it safe for the animal?  Are the size and materials right for the animal?  Is it fun for the animal?

And then, with feedback in mind, students returned to their designs again…and created a new iteration.  They either started from scratch or improved on their original design.  This design was created by a six-year-old with an elephant in mind!


I’m looking forward to our next tinkering opportunity–when students will take some materials and design a “thing” from them.  I can’t wait for them to start making!