Curricular Unit: Rockets

Contributed by: Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Enginering and Applied Science, University of Colorado Boulder

Two images: A drawing of a small boy cheering as his model rocket launches.  A photograph at night shows a rocket blasting off amidst clouds of exhaust and plumes of fire (due to the rocket's ignited fuel).
Students explore motion, rockets and rocket motion
Copyright © (left) Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity, NASA; (right) Jack Pfaller, NASA


Students learn how and why engineers design satellites to benefit life on Earth, as well as explore motion, rockets and rocket motion. Through six lessons and 10 associated hands-on activities, students discover that the motion of all objects—everything from the flight of a rocket to the movement of a canoe—is governed by Newton's three laws of motion. This unit introduces students to the challenges of getting into space for the purpose of exploration. The ideas of thrust, weight and control are explored, helping students to fully understand what goes into the design of rockets and the value of understanding these scientific concepts. After learning how and why the experts make specific engineering choices, students also learn about the iterative engineering design process as they design and construct their own model rockets. Then students explore triangulation, a concept that is fundamental to the navigation of satellites and global positioning systems designed by engineers; by investigating these technologies, they learn how people can determine their positions and the locations of others.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

How are rockets and satellites connected? How are rockets and engineers connected? How about rockets and Newton's laws? The answers are many! Engineers have played a key role in designing satellites, getting them into orbit (via rockets!), and using the data they relay back to Earth for useful purposes. Anytime engineers work on something that moves, including rockets, they use Newton's laws of motion to help describe, understand and design how it is going to move. Designing and building rockets requires many different types of engineers working together to create equipment that functions as intended. When designing rockets, engineers must not only consider how far and fast they need to go, but also their cost, safety, weight and impact on the environment. Doing this requires many, many design iterations along the way. This means engineering teams design and test a rocket, discover what is not working or could be better, and then redesign and test until a successful final design is achieved.

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Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object. (Grade 3) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Draw a scaled picture graph and a scaled bar graph to represent a data set with several categories. Solve one- and two-step "how many more" and "how many less" problems using information presented in scaled bar graphs. (Grade 3) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Solve multistep word problems posed with whole numbers and having whole-number answers using the four operations, including problems in which remainders must be interpreted. Represent these problems using equations with a letter standing for the unknown quantity. Assess the reasonableness of answers using mental computation and estimation strategies including rounding. (Grade 4) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
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Unit Schedule


See individual lessons and activities.


© 2009 by by Regents of the University of Colorado

Supporting Program

Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Enginering and Applied Science, University of Colorado Boulder


The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under grants from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education, and the National Science Foundation (GK-12 grant no. 0338326). However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the Department of Education or National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: March 29, 2018