Forces Motion Newtons Laws Project Based Assessment STEM Bottle Rockets MS-PS2-1


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This product is one of the most engaging and meaningful activities I do all year long! What kid wouldn’t want to build and launch rockets!?! Just take a look at an email I received from a former student about her memories of the bottle rocket lab and how it changed her life:

Hi Mr. Williams,

“How is Oak Crest lately?

I was in your physical science class a loooooong long time ago (2008) and I thought I’d let you know that your bottle rockets project was what first got me into space propulsion. It was my favorite project in middle school by far, and I hope you’re still doing it.

One thing led to another and now I’m a sophomore at Caltech studying applied physics, and I’m going to do research on micropropulsion systems at JPL for the summer. I think I even wrote about the bottle rockets on some college applications or something…

Thanks for everything!”

  • This product can be two days to two weeks it’s up to you. You get very detailed teacher directions and diagrams of how to build the rockets. I provide a timeline of what we do on each day. 21 slide PowerPoint on the physics of rockets and a graphic organizer the students fill in as you lecture from the PowerPoint. I provide some NASA literature and fill in the blank/close reading that accompanies it. A student hand out and key and a modified version for your SPED/ELL population!!!

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The following concepts are included:

-Principals of rocketry


-Newton’s Laws

-Kinetic & Potential Energy






Materials: You will need a rocket launcher and a bicycle pump. I use Pitsco launchers, but there are many different types online and you can even make your own. I have the students bring in one manila folder, 1 roll of duct tape, clay, 1-2 empty 2-liter soda bottles, old CD’s and any decorations that they choose. It’s helpful to be able to weigh/mass the rockets for optimal mass.

Day one-50 minutes: I have the students fill in the Vocabulary Chart/Graphic organizer that goes with the PowerPoint as I lecture. However you can use the NASA literature as scaffolding before this day or to reinforce later for homework. After they are done filling in the graphic organizers, we then look at slide #15 on the PowerPoint so the students can get in groups and decide who will bring in what materials. There is a chart the students can fill out on the last page of the Student Lab Handout for that.

Day two-1 hour 45 minutes: I model how to build the rockets using the Bottle Rocket Directions. We discuss “Part 1: Constructing Your Rocket” and I put the picture of my white board directions on the screen. I then give them the rest of the block period to build their rockets.

Day three-1 hour 45 minutes: We go over “Part II: Launching the Bottle Rocket”. We talk about safety by emphasizing they stay in the designated area that you deem safe and that the students pay attention to every launch. Rockets can stray because of poor design and/or wind. Students use their phones to film the launches and then when they return to class they can use the video to enter accurate times in their data tables. With that data, the students can calculate the distance and the velocity of their rockets. The formula I use is one of many and what I think is grade level appropriate for middle school and it’s the same equation the Homer Hickam played by Jake Gyllenhaal in the movie “October Sky”! I show this movie after we are done. There more accurate equations and methods out there, but for my student population they aren’t appropriate. If you’re using this for high school physics I’d recommend those. If you want to avoid the math all together, you can purchase an altitude finder or make one.

Day four-50 minutes: I usually give students time in class to work on the calculations and the questions, because they usually need help.

Day 5 and 6 (optional): If you want to add an engineering component, I have the “Bottle Rocket Iteration” handout. I have my students redesign new rockets and try to beat their first rocket’s altitude. I give them the same amount of time to build and launch as their first rockets. This would make this product more aligned to the NGSS standards. I know you may be thinking that two weeks is a long time, but that’s the direction of the NGSS standards and most of all, the kids learn so much and love it!!!


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