Budding aerospace engineer Anton Pe?herrera 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, Pe?herrera 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," Pe?herrera said, smiling widely as headed off to tweak his design.
Pe?herrera 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.
The emphasis on experimentation and hands-on learning helps develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills and embeds knowledge more deeply in many students than just textbook learning, DePaola said.
"We don't all learn best from books," DePaola said. "A lot of kids learn best from each other."
Kids built forts of cardboard, hula hoops out of irrigation pipe, catapults out of rubber bands and plastic cutlery, and LED lights using tiny batteries.
It wasn't all about construction. Destruction was encouraged at several tables full of computers and other electronic equipment.
Nicholas Fendler of Petaluma, dressed in a Little League baseball uniform, used a screwdriver to disembowel what appeared to be an electronic doorbell.
"You usually don't get to dismantle computers," Fendler said. "I don't know what it is. There's just something about it I like."
Nearby, 7-year-old Clayton DeMars of Windsor used a massive pair of tin snips to crack open a satellite TV receiver, yanking out and examining the electronic innards, likening the circuit boards to little roads.
"It's like a little town in there," DeMars said.
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @citybeater.