On Saturday, rockets flew through Western Kentucky University's Center for Research & Development.

At the third STEMShot competition, 50 plastic cups were arranged in the shape of a square 70 feet from a PVC rocket launcher, and the goal for students firing rockets made of paper and cardboard was to knock down as many of the cups as they could.    

Rico Tyler, a SKyTeach master teacher, who organized and oversaw the competition, said the challenge is different every year.  

"The purpose of the competition is really to create a situation where students, back at their school, can experiment with the challenge," he said. 

The goal of the competition is to teach students, "You can't read how to do an experiment out of a book. You have to actually practice it. That involves having some kind of challenge that's interesting. That makes you want to learn those skills." 

This year, the teams were told the rocket launcher would always be set to 30 pounds per square inch and were tasked with picking the angle and direction. They had three chances to knock down as many cups as they could.  

"We always give them some information and other information they find out when they get here," he said.  

Saturday, 11 teams from three school districts participated, which Tyler said is a smaller turnout than normal, adding that some districts that have participated in past competitions didn't this year because they are on fall break.

After the competition, Tyler said he was satisfied with the craftsmanship of the rockets. 

"We had no rockets fail this year," he said. In earlier competitions, Tyler has seen nose cones fly off rockets as well as air rushing through holes in the tape holding rockets together causing them to explode.

"The rockets are made of paper specifically so they're not dangerous, but paper can become confetti," he said.

Terry Shelley, a science teacher at Albany Elementary School in Clinton County, worked with six teams of fourth-graders, including the Diamond Dawgs, the team that, at 26, knocked over the most pins and won the competition. 

This is his third year participating in the STEMShot competition, he said.   

"They have fun with it and it's much better than worksheets," he said, adding that hands-on learning is more engaging for students.

This year, attaching larger fins to the rockets was an important part of the strategy for the competition, Shelley said. 

"With those larger fins, we were just trying to take up as much space as possible," he said. 

The competition serves to teach his students about force and energy, motion and transfer of energy, he said.

"All of our fourth-grade energy standards are being hit with this," he said.     

Andrew Garrett, a sixth-grade Austin Tracy Elementary School student, whose team, Fire Away, knocked down one cup on each of its first two launches, said the competition provides a fun way to learn about science and engineering.  

Andrew had been preparing for the competition since Monday, by practicing in the Austin Tracy gym every day after school, testing and modifying rockets.

"We would try to find things that we could tweak," he said.  

Broderick Davis, a science teacher at Austin Tracy, said this is his first time participating and that the parameters of the competition led to his students trying out different ideas and recording data to see how to make the most effective rocket.  

"It's kind of a problem-based approach to science," he said. "They have to think a little harder to solve a problem." 

— Follow reporter Jackson French on Twitter @Jackson_French or visit bgdailynews.com

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