Around the table the students stood, brightly colored paper piled in front of them, most of it folded every which way in what resembled a scrap yard of discarded paper planes.

With their own sheets in hand, the students watched intently as Andre Correa, an engineer with Lockheed Martin in Bath, carefully folded his paper into a small, glider-like plane, then leaned back and let it fly across the Windham Middle School gym, the bright red aircraft zipping 20 feet in the air while performing a few quick stunts.

May 1 marked a day away from their normal class schedule for Windham Middle School and Jordan Small School in Raymond, but it was hardly a day away from learning. The Middle School was the state host for Space Day, an international event that uses the enthusiasm young students show for the wonders of the universe to promote math, science, technology and engineering.

Through lectures and presentations, as well as hands-on activities like paper plane construction and rocket propulsion, Space Day aims to stoke the fires of learning. Sometimes, as with Correa’s lessons on aeronautics, the students start to pick up ideas and information while thinking they are just having a good time.

“They learn how different angles in the plane’s wings effect how they fly. They start to understand that when they make a few planes,” said Correa, “Some of them have their own designs that they like so they like to match them up to what’s in the book.”

After each folding lesson, Correa lined up the students for a distance and accuracy contest, giving the would-be engineers a chance to test their designs and techniques against each other. As the kids threw the planes, they watched them dart left and right, up and down, quickly calculating the hows and whys of flight.

“It’s because of its design and because of the arc,” said Eben Dexter, a seventh-grader from Raymond who won the distance competition in his group with a long and slender plane.

In another group, Kristin Jamieson and Allyson Tibbetts, both seventh-graders in Windham, made smaller planes with a boxy design, more of a trick plane than a jet. Once they had their planes folded, they quickly ran off to the side to test them out, throwing them straight up in the air as Correa had taught them.

“We’re all learning stuff, but it’s also fun,” said Jamieson.

Throughout the day, the students rotated from place to place, learning about different aspects of space flight. They took in lessons on astronomy, rocketry, sensory perception, the sun and planetary motion, astrobiology, living and working in space, and robotics. They also heard about Chris Cassidy, an astronaut from York who will fly this summer to the International Space Station, and Charlie Hobaugh and Edward Ham, two other astronauts with Maine ties. Cassidy’s mom and Ham’s father attended the event to talk about their sons, and the great impact science has had on their lives.

Back in the gym, the students had a chance to look at various items from outer space, including moon rocks and pieces of a meteor that landed in Argentina. They spent a lot of time looking at the specimens through microscopes and magnifying glasses, blown away by the objects not of this planet.

“They’re amazing. They’re not from Earth,” said Justin DiBiase, a seventh-grade student in Windham.

“It’s really cool. It looks like melted iron if you look at it under the microscope,” said Josh Sayah, 13, after taking a long peer at the meteor.

Also drawing their share of attention were the space meals, tiny packets of almost unidentifiable astronaut nourishment labeled “veggie quiche,” “oatmeal” and “chicken consomme.”

“That’s scrambled eggs? It looks like butterscotch,” said DiBiase, unsure if he could ever be hungry enough to sample the meals.

It is just that kind of wonder and curiousity that Space Day was created to engender. George Whitney of Southern Maine Astronomy, a group that emphasizes education, was at Space Day to show students how astronomers look at the sun. He was lucky enough to have someone show him the amazing things in the sky, and he hoped to use Space Day to pass on a little of that knowledge.

“When I was 12 years old, I had a teacher that introduced me to astronomy,” he said. “A club formed in my hometown, and I found a mentor who helped me find things in the sky and I haven’t left it since.”

Neal Larsen, center, and his classmates search the sky after the sixth-grader launched an air-powered rocket during Space Day activities May 1. Students from Windham and Raymond took part in the event, which encourages math, science, technology and engineering in education by introducing kids to the wonders of the universe.Allyson Tibbetts and Kristin Jamieson, seventh-graders at Windham Middle School, try out their paper planes during Space Day. “We are all learning stuff, but it’s also fun,” said Jamieson.


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