Reflection: Problem-based Approaches Craft Rocket Challenge #1 - Section 6: Student Activity


Whenever I design and implement an engineering project I am careful about what sort of building the kids should experience. Should they build a set model with clearly defined and detailed directions, so that everyone builds the exact same thing or should they be given a final project design and be allowed to meet that design however their imagination provides? 

This is a question I struggle with often. I tend to answer the above question based on safety and funding. If the materials used to build the project is very expensive or the safety of the students is anyway dependent on the build, then I tend to have my students follow a set of strict instructions. In the case of building rockets, the rocket engines do pose some concern.

I believe that true learning of the engineering process occurs when students are allowed to free build whatever design they have conceived. It not only provides a greater degree of learning, it is also easier to teach; just give them the design requirements and materials and let them loose. For me, the hardest part is not providing support. Kids often want to know how they should build something and the teacher in me wants to provide an answer - don't! I learned to shrug my shoulders and turn the question back to the students and ask them how they think it should be built. The student frustration may be higher, but so is the student learning.

In this project, I have a set of uniform directions the students must follow in order to safety launch a rocket. However, I give students enough freedom to research, design, and build many functions of the rocket such as the nose cones and rocket fins. It often becomes a balancing act between what I want them to build and what they are allowed to experience for themselves.

  Engineering - strict plans vs. free building
  Problem-based Approaches: Engineering - strict plans vs. free building
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Craft Rocket Challenge #1

Unit 12: Engineering and Design
Lesson 5 of 11

Objective: Students will be able to build a model rocket using household craft material and determine the altitude that their rocket was able to achieve.

Big Idea: Launching a rocket is good, building a rocket is better, building a rocket from scratch is best.

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  220 minutes
small craft rocket
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