Water rockets!

On a hot day, water is a wonderful solution to many of life’s challenges that assail us when the thermometer strays into new and uncomfortable territory. Record setting is not always a good thing!

In this case, we traipsed outside to check out Newton’s Laws of motion as they apply to an air pressure/water powered rocket, made out of a 2 liter bottle. All we needed was 300-500 ml of the hydrous and approximately 40-50 lbs of pressure and we were off to the races! The rocket was able to go airborne for an altitude of 2-3 stories, depending on water volume, air pressure and aerodynamic variables.

Click here for a view of one launch:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ycMghpJ4Kg

7th Grade Rocketeers

I remember a movie that came out 25 years ago, yet it seems like yesterday. Back in 1991 Disney came out with a wonderful new family flick –  “The Rocketeer”. It was done in classic 1950’s retro style, with all the bells and whistles. The idea of a human rocket pack was great!  Funny how reality is stranger than science fiction at times; we now have rocket packs even better than what the show depicted.

How best to entice our kids into a “Maker mindset” than to have them create their very own rocket car? Kids worked in groups of three, fulfilling separate roles: fuel engineer, aerodynamic specialist and coolant specialist.  The device had to meet three criteria: it had to ignite, move forward and not melt down into molten slag of plastic along the way. With different choices of fuel, coolant and wheels, this became at times a tricky proposition! Kids had to work on communication, cooperation and compromise.

This year, every group met all three criteria. Other classes have not always fared so well, to Mr. Stoffregen’s general amusement. All three fuel types worked though getting the isopropanol to ignite was a trick unto itself. The most hilarious launch was a car that steamed along in style for 2.5 meters, at which point the front axle decided for reasons unknown to spontaneously disconnect and continue along all on its own for another 8 meters. The car ground to a rather sudden halt. Naturally, the car’s owners wanted to know which distance would be counted – 2.5 meters or 11.5 meters? The rules stated that the distance would be determined from the front nose of the rocket car, ending that attempt at fame. Hey – it was worth asking!

The kids then needed to record the temperature inside and outside on launch day, the relative humidity and barometric pressure and relate it to the success of their cars, taking into account decisions made along the way. At the end of the day, the kids all came away winners. Next week we should be able to post a launch video or two. Job well done, rocketeers!

Check these links for some views of our rocket car unit.

Look mom, no wheels! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6gC30OY2os

Aerodynamic/wheel strategies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9lL0vgHuTA

Launch!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fpq2NMjhW90&list=UU0Kxytm_71mvXrl1Ubn_k8A

8th Graders get their feet wet


The 8th graders got their first taste today of what the labs will be like this year. For starters, one must be very quick on their toes! In order to finish on time, one really needs to have the pre-lab already written when they walk in the door. If it has already been safety-approved, that’s certainly icing on the cake. Today’s lab was 1.1: Distillation of baking soda.

The classroom was a beehive of activity as students collected the materials they would need – wash basins, a distillation apparatus, an alcohol burner, some fresh baking soda in a pyrex test tube, and of course, goggles. As those old MG car clubs like to say, “Safety First!”*

So, what exactly happens when one heats baking soda to high temperatures? Hmm, now that would be telling! We have one more step to complete on Thursday, when we compare a sample of baked baking soda with a fresh sample to see how both powders react to a test tube full of tea. That will provide some clues as to any possible chemical changes within the NaHCO3.

Both groups really had to scramble to finish on time, and they will get feedback next class as to how they did, as they plot a course for further work. It was a good day in the lab.

(* Would you believe that Mr. Stoffregen once drove an MGB as his daily driver? That was the car he had when he started at Quest Academy almost 25 years ago. It was painted a sassy british racing green, and it was a real hoot to drive!)

Welcome Back – the Lab is amazing!

Have you peeked in the new science labs yet? I still get a shiver down my back and a big grin every morning as I walk in. Alumni have walked in, stared in fascination and asked, “What happened here?” Magic, thats what. The science teachers sat down with the administrators and a series of field professionals to craft basically a brand new science facility from the inside out. It should come as no surprise that this takes us right back to the cutting edge in science.

The list of upgrades is long and amazing – a brand new ceiling, new LED lights, a brand new curio cabinet in the large window by the door made out of aluminum and polished stainless steel, a new reinforced cart for the 55 gallon fish tank, new fish, some fancy laboratory-grade microscopes, two new digital screens with blue tooth connectivity, some really sweet and ergonomic maple lab chairs that both spin and are on coasters, a video system built into the ceiling, a huge array of high-end water tests, some new measuring equipment… the list goes on and on.

And it doesn’t stop when we head out into the field, as we shall soon see as we embark on our annual Outdoor Education trip. When the 8th graders set forth to visit Northern Door County, Wisconsin, they shall take with them some of the most advanced water testing equipment available on the market today. This is not the standard limited testing equipment found in most school labs – these are the tools that professionals use when they go out into the field. Why take this route? We want to give the kids real life experiences, but also teach them on the quality and level of equipment that some of them might someday use for their own professional careers. Imagine looking out at Lake Michigan at Rowley’s Bay – pristine waters if ever there were any. Each child will be handed a different test to perform; one will look at calcium levels, another dissolved oxygen, another toxicity, and so on. They will do this on top grade equipment that is accurate down to one microgram per liter (ug/L). Another way to say that is one part per billion. Wow, stuff like this wasn’t even available just a few years ago. And it doesn’t stop there – the students will learn what those tests mean, what is considered a safe range for each test, what affects those numbers and what is done when a test reveals unsafe levels. Naturally we are expecting very high water quality samples on our trip, but to be able to quantify that quality and explain these tests to the students has this science teacher on cloud nine.




I just wanted to take a moment to say a BIG THANK YOU to all the Quest families who banded together to support Science at the auction last year. Your generous contributions have put our two laboratories at the forefront of science education at the K-8 level. I can hardly wait to begin teaching in this brand new facility. Kudos and undying gratitude also goes out to the dynamic duo of Nick Iodice and Ernesto. Often a job of this magnitude is farmed out to a third party, but these lads had the renovation well in hand from day one. Next in line were Phil Igyarto and Daniel Rezac, our IT specialists. Whether it was wiring a new video camera into the ceiling or setting up the new LCD TV monitors to speak to each-other, these guys knew what to do. The labs are spiffy, ergonomic as all get-out, and chock full of new opportunities for our students. When you have a moment, drop by to see the new labs. Watch for kids to start making videos soon!

Sex Education mini-unit starts Tuesday, Feb 16, 2016.

The students already know that in our science classes we are setting aside time for a few days starting next Tuesday to discuss health and sex education. We have traditionally begun the unit on Valentine’s Day for several years now, so students know when to expect it. This is done at all three grade levels, though the level of discussion and the range of topics differ a bit from 6th to 8th grade. In this unit we look at structure and function as well as changes that occur during puberty. Diseases are explained as well as good hygiene, and why it is important to get a good night’s sleep every night. We discuss what it means to be a parent and the miracle of child birth. The unit ends up with a short unit on heredity and Punnett squares to predict genotype and phenotype.

Kids are asked to deal with this material in a mature manner as this is very important (and to some people embarrassing) information. There is a question and answer session where students may write down questions on a piece of paper (without names) that are then read out loud by the teacher and answered openly and honestly. If the teacher deems a question to be inappropriate, it will not be shared with the class.

In the past, there were some things that we did not discuss during this unit. For either religious or cultural reasons, there may be different ideas within our Quest community of what is appropriate to teach the children. For this reason, we felt these topics were best discussed in the home. This included topics like birth control and sexual orientation. We encourage you to ask your child about what they are learning in this unit and to give your child a chance to ask any other questions they may have on the topic.

**Note for 8th grade parents: New legislation regarding sex education in the state of Illinois was passed into law as of January 1, 2014. While it does not force schools to teach sex education (93% of Illinois public schools do), it does require that if sex ed is taught, the curriculum go beyond the concept of abstinence and also discuss birth control. Why the change? There has been a spike in the last few years in teenage pregnancies and venereal diseases. It was determined that the “Just say no” education was insufficient for our children.

What does this mean for our 8th graders? The message “wait for marriage” has always been a hallmark of our program, but for 8th graders we choose to adjust our curriculum to be in alignment with the new legislation. The unit takes at least two days, so these changes would not be addressed until the second day of the unit.

Parents: It has never been our desire to step on the toes of our parent body. Some parents may feel strongly that they do not want their 8th grade child exposed to this information at this time. We understand and respect that wish. Therefore, we offer three options (option 2 only affects 8th graders):

  1. Do nothing and your child will take full part in the unit and discussion afterwards.
  1. Write a note to Mr. S for option 2: permission for your child to be taught the same curriculum we have employed in the past, but not the new section on birth control. Please sign the note. Alternate learning opportunities unrelated to sex education will be provided next Tuesday for your child.
  1. Write a note to Mr. S for option 3: ask that your child be exempt from the unit altogether and instead cover this information as a family within the home. Alternate studies will be provided for your child both Friday and Tuesday (no school Monday).


E-mail is another option: You may contact Mr. S before 8:00 am on Tuesday at the following address:

Nate.stoffregen@questacademy.org. Thank you for your consideration!


Sincerely, Mr. S


Cartography, Floods and National Parks

7th graders were hard at work on their topographic maps.

7th graders were hard at work on their topographic maps.

Topognosia. Isn’t that a wonderful way to begin a discussion? Toss in a word (that may or may not be real) and try to suss out its meaning much the way a dowser might try to locate water underground. In this case the word happens to be real, and holds the honor of being the first quatra-syllabic word in this blog. Woot.  Since the 7th graders just finished their flood unit, a word like topognosia tweaks the curiosity just a tad.

Shame on you. I know your type! For there are more than a few of you who took the opportunity at the end of the previous paragraph to go look up the term for yourself, or to nonchalantly quiz your 7th grader as to its meaning. That’s cheating. Though I will admit to truncating the former paragraph a bit early just to see what fish came up in the net. For the rest of you who plunged bravely on but are still working on their medical terminology, lets break the word down.  “Topog” gives no valid hits on Google, but we hit the jackpot with “topo” – 46 million hits, most related to map terrain. As expected. “Nosia” threw me initially, as I inadvertently assumed it was disease-related.

Tossing it out there into the electronic ether brought back a few funny catches. Anosognosic is one of my new favorite terms, as it means one who is unable to recognize that he or she has a disease. There are so many ways to go with this, but in the interest of nurturing a holiday spirit of wholesomaeity (new word just in time for the three day weekend), I will restrain myself, though the effort leaves my fingers quivering. It also produced nosologist, or one who specializes in the classification of diseases. In the end, all of the nosic terms were misleading, for topognosia is not a disease at all. It is the ability to recognize the location of a stimulus on the skin. This is useful for instance in the presence of a horde of hungry mosquitoes when it is painfully necessary to know where and when to slap with abandon.

I must confess to a sense of letdown at this point, for I had hoped that we had at our fingertips a fun new multi-syllabic word to describe the inability of some to look at a topographic map while deep in the woods and unerringly pinpoint their location on it. A moment’s cogitation on theimage matter reminded me that we already had an effective term for that condition: “lost.”

Within the Flood/Create a National Park unit, there were different roles for each member of the group including Ranger, Mayor, Landscape Architect and Cartographer.  Within these roles the 7th graders presented different reports based on their research. We learned about different types of dams, a history of major dam failures, the types of flora and fauna one might expect to encounter along the St. Joe River in Idaho, the setting for our parks, and how the new dam might impact them. The mayors presented brochures inviting tourists to the park, but also had to state their opinion about whether this new park would help or hinder their nearby town, and why. The cartographer worked very hard to create a 2’ x 2’ topographical map of their park replete with a new dam,  roads connecting the park to local highways, many hills rising up as high as 3000 feet, and a plethora of park features. It was fun to see the different visions each group had for their park and their new dam, which was intended to stop future floods in the area. This group is anything but lost!

Quest Academy Science Fair Region 6 Qualifiers

image image image image image image imageWe held our Quest Science Fair in the gymnasium on Thursday, January 28. 60 students presented their projects to 50 judges – a new record! Thanks to everyone who helped out. We were touched and amazed at the groundswell of support from the community who were here to help – scientists, doctors, parents, friends, businesspeople, alumni, staff and administration… the list goes on! The feedback and support you give to the students enriches the science program at Quest. Click the following link to see the 22 students who have qualified for the regional fair to be held at Niles North High school on Saturday, March 5th, 2016. Congratulations!  – Mr. S


1st Place: Freddie Tang, 7th grade

Tie for 2nd place: Sara Gregg and Aarushi Verma

Congratulations to our 22 students

Middle School Science: Rock cycle in Door County, Wisconsin

When you walk on the beach, do you ever stop to wonder where the sand came from? Why are some beaches gravel instead of sand, and yet others are just limestone bluffs dropping straight down into the water?

These pictures were taken on a beach in Northern Door County. Apparently dolomitic limestone beaches are a fairly rare phenomenon; this is one of them. The parent bedrock is a hardened cap of dolomitic limestone from the Niagara Escarpment over a slate base. Perhaps you haven’t heard of this escarpment before, but you already know a fairly famous waterfall that flows over it! So if this escarpment is so hard, how did Lake Michigan form? The Ordovacian and Devonian layers surrounding this relatively thin wedge of limestone are softer and have eroded away over the years, forming depressions that eventually formed many lakes as the glaciers receded, Lake Michigan among them. The Niagaran Escarpment is Silurian and was more resistant to the glacial carving. Even so, it flakes apart very easily!

One can almost see the rock cycle taking place from year to year, as this author has noticed automobile-sized boulders flake off from time to time. The wind, water ice and waves all do their part in nature’s rock tumbler to make a beach with rock sizes varying from pea-sized to walnut size. But if the parent bedrock is only limestone and shale, how is it that the beach is covered with samples of basalt, agate, chert, and many other specimens? Glaciers are the culprit! How about the three types of coral – honeycomb, chain and tube – how did they get into a fresh water lake, along with a plethora of other fossils? Come by the lab and inquire within if you aren’t sure! 🙂

– Mr. S



Rock cycle at work: on the Niagaran Escarpment

Rock cycle at work: on the Niagaran Escarpment

Fossilized coral

Fossilized coral

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