Straw Rockets

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SWBAT apply the Engineering Practices to design and create air powered rockets.

Big Idea

How can you use the Engineering Design Process to design and create an air powered rocket that flies the farthest?


5 minutes
I prepare the following materials before the lesson:
  • plastic straws (at least one per student)
  • clear tape (one roll per table)
  • scrap paper (about five per student)
  • permanent fine tip markers, like Sharpies (one or two per table) 

I begin by having students write the date and the focus question (How can you use the Engineering Design Process to design and create an air powered rocket that flies the farthest?) in their science notebooks.  For this lesson, I ask them draw a quick sketch of what they think a their rockets will look like.

Next I demonstrate how to to make a paper rocket by rolling a half sheet of paper around a pencil and taping it so it stays together.  Then I twist the paper around the sharpened end of the pencil to make a nosecone.  I place the rocket onto a straw and blow, shooting the rocket across the room.

There are templates you can download such as this one from NASA or this one from Kid Science Challenge, but I want to leave it open for students to design their own solutions.


10 minutes

I have students write their initials on their straws with Sharpies so there aren't any mix ups, then have students create their own rockets.  I have them go up to a measuring tape at the front of the class and launch two at a time so there aren't any safety issues, but you could do this in a hallway or outside if it is easier to manage.

After everyone has a chance to launch their rockets, I introduce them to the Engineering Design Process.  I like this poster from The Works.  We discuss the Goal (make a straw rocket that can fly the farthest), the Problem (the rockets don't fly very well) and ask them to think about other things that fly, both natural and man made.  Students discuss with their tables what they have in common (wings, light weight, aerodynamic shape, etc.) and write down their ideas in their science notebooks.


20 minutes

I then ask them "How might you use those ideas to modify your rocket or make a new rocket that might fly even farther?"  I ask this way because it encourages students to take risks on designs, even if it doesn't work how they thought it might.

I let them know that they will be moving along the remaining steps on their own, making their own plans, creating their rockets, testing them out, and modifying their designs.  Changes might include fins, length of rocket, length of nose cone, addition of weight, etc.  I encourage students to talk and work together with their tables because explaining their thinking creates better depth of knowledge, and working in teams mirrors how engineers work together.

I try to give them enough time that most students get to try at least two more designs.


10 minutes

Next, I have two students at a time do one final launch and leave their rockets where they land.  I ask students to write down their observations about the rockets in their science notebooks.  I ask them to look for patterns, such as sizes and shapes of rockets, at the longest and shortest distances.

Finally, I ask students to complete the following sentence starter in their notebooks;  "I used the Engineering Design Process to improve my rocket by..."