Curricular Unit: Rockets

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

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
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/

Summary

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.

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.

  • Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object. (Grade 3 ) More Details

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    This Performance Expectation focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
    Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
    Plan and conduct an investigation collaboratively to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence, using fair tests in which variables are controlled and the number of trials considered.

    Alignment agreement:

    Science investigations use a variety of methods, tools, and techniques.

    Alignment agreement:

    Each force acts on one particular object and has both strength and a direction. An object at rest typically has multiple forces acting on it, but they add to give zero net force on the object. Forces that do not sum to zero can cause changes in the object's speed or direction of motion. (Boundary: Qualitative and conceptual, but not quantitative addition of forces are used at this level.)

    Alignment agreement:

    Objects in contact exert forces on each other.

    Alignment agreement:

    Cause and effect relationships are routinely identified.

    Alignment agreement:

  • 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 ) More Details

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    This Performance Expectation focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
    Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
    Define a simple design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process, or system and includes several criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

    Alignment agreement:

    Possible solutions to a problem are limited by available materials and resources (constraints). The success of a designed solution is determined by considering the desired features of a solution (criteria). Different proposals for solutions can be compared on the basis of how well each one meets the specified criteria for success or how well each takes the constraints into account.

    Alignment agreement:

    People's needs and wants change over time, as do their demands for new and improved technologies.

    Alignment agreement:

  • 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 ) More Details

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    This Performance Expectation focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
    Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
    Generate and compare multiple solutions to a problem based on how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the design problem.

    Alignment agreement:

    Research on a problem should be carried out before beginning to design a solution. Testing a solution involves investigating how well it performs under a range of likely conditions.

    Alignment agreement:

    At whatever stage, communicating with peers about proposed solutions is an important part of the design process, and shared ideas can lead to improved designs.

    Alignment agreement:

    Engineers improve existing technologies or develop new ones to increase their benefits, to decrease known risks, and to meet societal demands.

    Alignment agreement:

  • 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 ) More Details

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  • 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 ) More Details

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Unit Schedule

Contributors

See individual lessons and activities.

Copyright

© 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

Acknowledgements

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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