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“It’s very Socratic. We try to get them to ask questions,” Cochran said.
Michels is a great coach because “he’s dedicated … and he’s very, very patient,” Cochran said. “There are a lot of teachers who want to go in and give kids the answers, and that reduces the learning.”
Cochran, a lifelong model rocket fan, said that in addition to being enjoyable, the competition fosters an interest in aerospace engineering. About 80 percent of participants end up pursuing science, technology, engineering and math careers, he said. said
“This is all a secret plot to get kids interested in science and technology,” Cochran said. “Most of the workforce in the aviation community is aging out … so a new wave has got to come in.”
Michels, who also loved rockets as a kid, said he’s had students on his teams become Air Force pilots and science teachers.
His favorite parts of coaching, though, are getting to know kids and watching their skills develop.
“All of a sudden they’re building [rockets] on their own, without any help,” Michels said. “That’s what we strive for as educators, helping students have successes like that.”
As the team prepares for nationals, they’ll be paying attention to all of the little things that can make or break a rocket’s performance, Michels said.
“The biggest hurdle is that every detail matters,” Michels said.
That’s why he has them log data from each flight, recording the rocket’s weight and weather conditions, as well as examining data from the altimeter, the tiny device in the rocket measuring altitude and descent pattern.
Edwards said that after all the team’s trials, she was surprised when they qualified for nationals.
“It was a huge shock and kind of a victory thing,” she said. “We were three girls who didn’t know what we were doing at the beginning.”
But now the team has gelled and is more confident. This week they’ll start launching without their coaches’ assistance, she noted.
“I think we’re ready,” Edwards said.
Erin Adler • 952-746-3283