Teacher makes learning a blast with rocketry camp


Eat your heart out, NASA.

At R. Roger Rowe School last week, rocket launches were happening by the dozen during teacher Dave Warner’s rocketry camp.

Rocket building is a great way to teach Newton’s Third Law: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Plus, it gives students a memorable summer camp experience.

“When the kids go out onto the field and launch, they’re so excited,” Warner said. “There’s a sense of pride, like, ‘I made this.’”

In camp, students started with paper rockets, moved on to water rockets and the last few days would work on Estes rockets, which are chemical-based.

Students in grades 4 through 6 were totally engrossed in their work on the water rockets made with Warner-selected materials including a liter soda bottle, a soccer cone, wooden fins, some plastic tubing and a ping-pong ball.

While there are kits to make these kinds of rockets, Warner likes to come up with his own materials and let the students get creative. Camper Jackson Kalench named his water rocket “Action Jackson.”

At the end of the day, students had difficulty pulling themselves away from their projects. Some of the parents who arrived to pick them up gave in and helped their children finish their rockets.

Rocket building also happens during the school year in Warner’s Tech 21 lab with seventh- and eighth-graders, only the students create a fuselage to hold a parachute.

Rowe’s Tech 21 lab is unique, one of the only schools in North County San Diego with such a lab, Warner said.

The lab is set up in stations with hands-on lessons in CAD (computer-aided design) technology, robotics and road transportation. During the school year, students get to make carbon dioxide dragsters and race them on a 50-foot track in the gym.

“It was really popular last year,” Warner said of the class.

Over the summer, Warner has been looking for ways to make Tech 21 even more fun and exciting. He just returned from the Marine Advanced Technology Education workshop at Monterey Bay College and learned how to make underwater, remotely operated vehicles with cameras.

Students in Tech 21 will have a chance to make them this year.

“The idea of the ROV is to hook (the students) into the excitement of engineering,” Warner said.

Popular class, popular teacher

Come the first day of school on Sept. 3 Warner will be starting his 14th year at the school. Warner, who is married to Rancho Santa Fe Community Center Director Pamela Meistrell, was a high school physics teacher for 15 years.

“When I came to Rancho Santa Fe I didn’t think I’d be here for more than a year,” Warner said. He was unsure of the challenge of teaching middle and elementary school students.

He soon found he was “captivated” by teaching the younger students. He said they have a natural affinity for science and are excited and unafraid of new things. Now he said the only thing he misses about teaching at a higher level is that more of the students get his jokes.

Warner recently received a letter from former student Chris Santore.

“Your class represented one of the first occasions during my early education where I became genuinely excited about academics,” Santore wrote.

Santore’s enthusiasm for science led him to UCLA, where he majored in physics. Santore said he even considered going for his Ph.D. but decided not to. Now he works at an investment firm but hopes to come back and help Warner at Rowe.

“That epitomizes it for me, “ Warner said about the touching letter. “When they come back and say the experience they had with you were life changing.”