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Unit: Rockets

Quick Look

Grade Level: 4 (3-5)

Choose From: 6 lessons and 10 activities

Subject Areas: Earth and Space, Physical Science, Science and Technology

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 http://eo.msfc.nasa.gov/c2w/ http://science1.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2009/06mar_keplerlaunch/


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 aligns to 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.

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 (www.achievementstandards.org).

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.

See individual lessons and activities for standards alignment.

Unit Schedule

More Curriculum Like This

Newton Gets Me Moving

Students explore motion, rockets and rocket motion while assisting Spacewoman Tess, Spaceman Rohan and Maya in their explorations. First they learn some basic facts about vehicles, rockets and why we use them. Then, they discover that the motion of all objects—including the flight of a rocket and mo...

preview of 'Newton Gets Me Moving' Lesson
Elementary Lesson
Using Thrust, Weight & Control: Rocket Me into Space

Through the continuing storyline of the Rockets unit, this lesson looks more closely at Spaceman Rohan, Spacewoman Tess, their daughter Maya, and their challenges with getting to space, setting up satellites, and exploring uncharted waters via a canoe. Students are introduced to the ideas of thrust,...

Learn to Build a Rocket in Five Days or Your Money Back

Students discover the entire process that goes into designing rockets. They learn about many important aspects such as supplies, ethics, deadlines and budgets. They also learn about the engineering design process and that the first design is almost never the final design.


© 2009 by by Regents of the University of Colorado


See individual lessons and activities.

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

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