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Hands-on learning at Maker Faire for kids

  • Griffin Vorhaus, 5, right, prepares to shoot off the rocket he made with the help of Piner High School's Cristian Avalos, 17, second from right, while Rick Vorhaus and Gabriel Grover, 9, left, watch during the Sonoma County Maker Kids Mini Maker Faire on Saturday at the Sonoma Country Day School. (Crista Jeremiason / PD)

Budding aerospace engineer Anton Peñaherrera learned some important lessons about rocket design Saturday afternoon.

The first time the 10-year-old Santa Rosa resident launched his foot-long hand-made paper rocket, it soared upward, caught the wind, cleared a set of raised garden beds and landed under some redwoods nearly 100 yards away.

But on its second launch, the vehicle didn't fare nearly as well. It exploded in mid-air, pieces of it drifting down to earth just a few yards away from the air-compressor powered launcher.

After retrieving the debris, Peñaherrera began the accident investigation. His conclusion: The pointy nose provided good aerodynamics, and three rear fins offered enough stabilization. But he used lightweight paper on the fuselage, and while it survived the first launch, it gave way in the second, resulting in a catastrophic vehicle failure.

“Next time, I'll use the thicker paper,” Peñaherrera said, smiling widely as headed off to tweak his design.

Peñaherrera was one of hundreds of curious kids and encouraging parents attending the fourth annual “Mini” Maker Faire at Sonoma Country Day School, a kids version of the Bay Area's annual do-it-yourself festival.

Creativity, hands-on learning, and experimentation were the order of the day, something that students don't always get enough of in traditional educational settings, said Dan Blake, a career development specialist with the Sonoma County Office of Education who helped organize the event.

“Schools don't provide students enough opportunities to fail,” Blake said.

But that's one of the most important ways kids learn, by trying new things and figuring out for themselves what works and what doesn't and why, said Dante DePaoloa, a biology teacher at Piner High School who is teaching the district's first class based on maker principles.

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