Straw Rockets Are Out of This World

Contributor
Science & Children Joan Gillman
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Types
Activity , Article , Experiment/Lab Activity , Lesson/Lesson Plan
Note
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.

Reviews

Description

Students will be investigating the effect that balanced and unbalanced forces have on straw rockets as they design their own rocket to see how far it can travel. Students will be testing and evaluating variables, as well as collecting and analyzing flight data so they can redesign their rockets to improve upon their original design.  A Straw Rocket Launcher is needed for this activity.  The article gives resource information for the teacher to make a launcher prior to the activity for $10, or a mini launcher can be purchased at https://www.pitsco.com/Mini-Straw-Rocket-Launcher or a larger launcher at https://www.pitsco.com/Straw-Rocket-Launcher

 

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • Upper Elementary
Language
English
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

3-PS2-1 Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object.

Clarification Statement: Examples could include an unbalanced force on one side of a ball can make it start moving; and, balanced forces pushing on a box from both sides will not produce any motion at all.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to one variable at a time: number, size, or direction of forces. Assessment does not include quantitative force size, only qualitative and relative. Assessment is limited to gravity being addressed as a force that pulls objects down.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This resource begins with the phenomenon of releasing a balloon filled with air into the classroom where students are exposed to Newton's third law that describes the relationship between the forces that two objects exert on each other. Students should be given time to discuss and observe how air escapes the balloon and is pushed in the opposite direction. Two other activities are detailed in the online NSTA Connection where students are exposed to balanced and unbalanced forces while investigating film canister rockets and balloon rockets. It may be suggested to use the balloon rockets as a demonstration lesson for the class which would add another phenomenon to begin the unit. Students should be given the opportunity to ask questions and come up with ideas at this point to determine which variables they will manipulate. Students could also help to determine the constraints of the problem instead of being given the constraints. To best meet this performance expectation it is suggested that students verbalize and write their science explanations in their journals using the claim, evidence, and reasoning strategy to further develop this concept while investigating the straw rocket tests.

3-5-ETS1-3 Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Following the specifications of the design challenge, the straw can be 10 - 20 cm long, can have between 2 - 5 fins, and the clay nose must be 2 cm or less in diameter. The Common More does not introduce the term diameter to students until the middle grades so it is suggested that the teacher model by cutting a small ball of clay in half to show the students a 2 cm measurement of the distance across. It is suggested that students design their model straw rocket prior to building in their science journals. Variables will be tested as students collect the data from each launch by changing either the length of the straw, the amount of fins or the size of the clay nose. It is suggested that the teacher refer to the variables as dependent and independent to use consistent science vocabulary as well as use the word prediction in place of hypothesis. Although the data collection sheets for this activity can be found at: http://static.nsta.org/connections/elementaryschool/201310GillmanNSTAConnection.pdf, it is suggested that collected data from each launch be recorded in science journals so that students are given more room for reflection and writing. Teachers may choose to give students time to talk with their partners to create their own data collection sheets for each launch.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students are actively engaged in measuring and weighing their rockets throughout the activity as they are collecting and interpreting the data of each trial launch in their journals. It is suggested that students write in their journal after each launch, reflecting on what worked and what didn’t work so they will be able to go back and analyze their science thoughts with the math data they collect as they redesign their rockets.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Although the words criteria and constraints are not used, students are given specifications for their straw rockets. The constraints of the straw rocket: between 10 and 20 cm in length, between 2-5 fins and have a nose cone 2 cm or less in diameter. The criteria is to try to make the straw rocket launch as far as possible. Students should be given the opportunity to connect the science behind the data analysis worksheets that were provided. It is suggested to give the students an opportunity to model their understanding of the forces on the rocket in their journals. As a possible extension the teacher could allow other student-generated variables to make the challenge a little more open-ended.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
To best meet this disciplinary core idea, students could be shown a picture of a straw rocket launcher and asked to generate their own noticings and questions. Students can illustrate a model that would help them explain their response to the question, “How can the forces be used to explain the direction and strength of the straw rocket launch?”. This might be followed with a driving question like, “How can the straw rocket launcher be used to explain balanced and unbalanced forces?” Students could return to the question at the end of the learning experiences. As students are testing their straw rockets, it is suggested that they are encouraged to write and talk about the forces exerted on the straw rocket the same as they did with the beginning balloon investigation. Students can use their journals to label the action and reaction forces exerted as the straw rocket is thrust forward.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students should be documenting in the included data collecting resources or in their science journal what happens as each variable is changed: the length of the straw, the amount of fins and the size of the cone nose so they can see the effect of these changes and be able to explain using evidence from their data.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
As students analyze the data from their findings of each trial launch, they can discuss with their partners what change made the rocket go a greater distance.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Throughout these activities the learner is engaging with the phenomenon and solution to the problem of how you can make a straw rocket reach the farthest distance possible by changing variables. Using the tips provided, the students will be documenting and reflecting in their journals as they integrate physical science (forces) with the engineering practices.

  • Instructional Supports: These activities engage the students in authentic and meaningful science and engineering experiences. Although numerous trade books are highlighted throughout the activities for students that provide opportunities for students to connect their explanations to the design solutions, it is suggested that students use some of these resources after they have had the opportunity to investigate themselves. Numerous opportunities should be provided for students to write and reflect their ideas in science journals.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Multiple opportunities are included in this resource for students to investigate and analyze what causes objects to go forward at a greater distance. It is suggested that data is also plotted for the whole class to allow for analysis of a larger data set. Three dimensional learning is also evident in the pre-activities leading up to the straw rocket investigation. Although a rubric is included with this investigation, it is mostly focused on the creation of the rocket. It is suggested that to give more meaning to the students science understanding, the first three rows of the rubric could be replaced with more meaningful science practices. Work with variables connected to engineering criteria/constraints and an understanding of balanced and unbalanced forces should be noted on a revised rubric to better assess students understanding.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This resource does not include a technologically interactive component.