How to Launch Model Rockets & Amaze Your Students! (Pt 2)

Learn everything you need to know about launching rockets with your students! I put together all my resources from four years of rocketry to help you bring this exciting STEM activity into your classroom. 

This post is part two of a three part series on model rockets in the classroom. Before you read further, I recommend starting with part one to get some basic background. 

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First, I always start with a simpler rocket STEM challenge such as balloon or straw rockets to get some science concepts covered. You can read more about these activities here. Once you are ready for model rockets, below are the steps I recommend for incorporating into your program or classroom. 

Getting Started with Rockets in the Classroom

  1. Review handouts in this shared Google Drive folder especially the following:

    • "Estes Teacher Guide” for an overview of the company and materials available

    • “Estes Math Lessons” for ideas to incorporate math challenges

    • “Apogee Education Pack" for worksheets on rocketry

  2. Go to www.estesrockets.com and review rocket options.

  3. Build a basic model rocket to understand main components. Aim for an E2X (easy to assemble rocket) such as the Alpha III rocket set

  4. To kick-off the unit, present the basics of rocketry and Newton’s Third Law to students (my version here). You may also wish to integrate some social studies with this History of Rockets presentation.

  5. Next, introduce the basics of Estes Model Rockets. Use the handout in the Drive to explain the parts of a model rocket (located in Estes Teacher Guide). I recommend having a completed model rocket to show these parts. Do not allow students to start building until they can accurately label all the parts.

  6. Review NAR Model Rocket Safety Code. Have students sign the code prior to starting.

  7. (Optional but fun) Have student teams create a Mission Patch. Explain how NASA creates mission patches for every launch. 

  8. Guide students through building a basic model rocket such as the Alpha III. I recommend going through the building process step-by-step as a class. Here is a presentation to guide your students. Working together will help avoid common mistakes and ensure students don't jump ahead. See photo below of how a building session looks in my classroom. Note: find bulk educator packs at a discount at AC Supply!

  9. Going deeper: Provide students with a budget to select their own model rocket to build and test. Note that higher skill levels require more cutting and painting, and they will need to use a craft knife. I recommend putting students in teams of 2 – 3 for this project. 

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Rockets & STEM

Model rockets are a great way to demonstrate scientific principals in action! However, for an activity to become a STEM challenge, students need to apply these principals to an engineering design challenge. Due to the potential danger of model rockets, students should be following all instructions exactly as provided. Unfortunately, this leaves little room for individual design or connection to a problem, and model rocketry in this form can't exactly be labeled as a STEM challenge. 

However, you can take it up another level by participating in a real engineering competition (Stage 3 STEM) through the Team America Challenge (TARC): http://rocketcontest.org. In this contest, students design, build and fly a rocket to safely carry a raw egg payload to a specific altitude and back within a certain amount of time. A highly recommended experience for motivated students! 

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