Northland Preparatory Academy – 6th grade science, high altitude ballooning

Flagstaff, Arizona is a STEM city and as such is a community that values STEM and its many STEM experts.

Northland Preparatory Academy is a charter school of grades 6-12. Kaci Heins is the year 6 science teacher and a passionate science educator with a strong interest in space science. Kaci wants her students to be inquisitive, creative and value the scientific process and opportunities that a STEM career can offer.

Having run after school robotics including First LEGO League, Kaci has now integrated a structured six week LEGO NXT robotics program into her year 6 science class. During the class, students progress from demonstrating essential maths skills and knowledge required to program the bot through to the actual sequential process of programming and testing through repeated iterations. Over the course of the unit students explore concepts such as ratio, scale, radius turns and measurement. While not officially meeting maths common core standards the unit strongly combines maths and science into the everyday timetabled class.

High Altitude Weather/Near Space Balloon Launch– During my visit to NPA I was able to participate in a high altitude balloon launch, the third that school has undertaken. Year 6 students studying weather as a unit complete a balloon launch and all preparations. The hands on inquiry nature of the project includes the engineering design process, payload research and construction, flight predictions, sensor installation, local geography, the actual launch and recovery and data collection and analysis. This was a whole stage project and Kaci believes this project has the biggest impact on students, offering a real ‘Aha’ moment as theory meets practice during the actual launch. It truly is about making a connection to science and scientific process and understanding.

Arizona Near Space Research  and Coconino Amateur Radio club provided radio support and the tracking team. A couple of parents and one student also joined in the chase.  ANSR work with schools to provide supportive and cost effective launches. In the case of this launch some materials were purchased in kit form from Stratostar a private firm supplying all in one balloon launch solutions for schools. Costs of launches range from approximately $1000-$3000.

Air support was also generously provided by Bruce Sidlinger who has a passion to encourage students to pursue STEM related studies and is seeking to provide opportunities within the local community.

Kaci values the forming of partnerships with the local community. Flagstaff has many high technology companies and organisations through the Flagstaff STEM Consortium. Leveraging these connections she has been able to create links and form partnerships with local radio clubs, observatories and GORE.

 Amateur Radio on the Internation Space Station (ARISS) – Please see my previous blog for the Mt Ousley PS experience. MOPS used a landbridge while NPA went for a direct overhead contact via the local radio club. Access to local radio club expertise determines the type of ARISS contact made.

Thanks to Kaci Heins and her students, Bruce Sidlinger and Jack Crabtree for their support and information.

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