In a pinch and need help on a lesson?
Williams Hands-on Science

When I first started teaching in 2000, I was assigned to teach physical science (physics, chemistry, and astronomy). I was an excited new teacher ready to impress my administrators and wow my students. The veteran teachers at my site didn’t have many hands-on activities. When I observed some of their classes, it was quiet and lacked energy. I needed something that would make me standout and I knew my STEM Bottle Rockets would be a hit!

STEM Bottle Rockets

I’m now doing STEM Bottle Rockets for my 23rd year and students and administrators love it! Every single year admin takes pictures and video and throws it up on the school’s socials. IT’S A HIT EVERY YEAR!

Just take a look at an email I received from a former student about her memories of the STEM Bottle Rockets 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 is How STEM Bottle Rockets Goes Down For Me:

Day One STEM Bottle Rockets: Launching into Newton’s World

This thrilling journey requires a few basic materials, including a STEM Bottle Rockets launcher and a bicycle pump. I use Pitsco launchers, however various options are available online, and creative minds can even craft their own.

STEM Bottle Rockets

To kickstart the STEM Bottle Rockets project, students need a manila folder, duct tape, clay, empty 2-liter soda bottles, old CDs, and any decorations they desire. Mass is a key factor, so having a digital scale to mass the rockets is beneficial for optimal performance.

The first day is spent familiarizing students with the project through a PowerPoint presentation and a Vocabulary Chart/Graphic organizer. The anticipation builds as students group up and decide who brings what materials, setting the stage for the exciting days ahead.

Day Two STEM Bottle Rockets: Turning Ideas into Rockets

With plans in place, day two sees students diving into the hands-on construction phase. Guided by the STEM Bottle Rockets Directions, students learn the intricacies of building their own rockets. The process is an exercise in problem-solving, teamwork, and creativity as students work to bring their visions to life.

I model how to build a very basic rocket before students start constructing theirs. Take a look at some of the pointers I give students below.

Making the nose cone for STEM Bottle Rockets

Fins and multiple bottle options for STEM Bottle Rockets

I allow the students to decide on whether they want to build a rocket made out of one bottle or two. Typically I have seen rockets made out of two bottles go higher. But what I emphasize the most is the effect of drag or air resistance on the rocket. I tell them reducing friction with straight, stiff and level fins make a huge difference with stability in flight. I give them the option to bring in decorations but they also need to keep in mind that decorations add mass and can increase drag if the rocket isn’t as aerodynamic. I remind them to check for everything to be straight and aligned every step of the way. Anything crooked on the rocket decreases stability and altitude.

Day Three STEM Bottle Rockets: Huston we are go for launch!

The real excitement happens on day three as students prepare to launch their rockets into the sky. Safety is paramount, and students are reminded to stay in designated areas while paying close attention to every launch. Capturing the magic on their phones, students film the launches, later using the videos to input accurate times into their data tables.

The real-world application comes into play as students calculate the distance and velocity of their rockets using a formula inspired by the movie “October Sky,” providing a tangible connection to scientific concepts.

Day Four STEM Bottle Rockets: Crunching the Numbers

In the following class, students dive into the mathematics behind the launches. Whether it’s calculating distances or answering questions related to the project, this stage allows students to apply their newfound of knowledge Newton’s 3 Laws and refine their analytical skills.

Days Five and Six STEM Bottle Rockets: Engineering Excellence (Optional)

For those looking to extend the excitement, an optional engineering component awaits. The “Bottle Rocket Iteration” handout challenges students to redesign their rockets and surpass their initial altitude. This not only aligns with NGSS standards but also encourages students to think like engineers, fostering critical thinking and innovation.

While the journey may span five to six days, the impact resonates far beyond the classroom. The hands-on, experiential learning approach not only meets educational standards but also sparks a love for science that extends beyond textbooks. This captivating lesson plan, including PowerPoint presentations, student handouts, and detailed instructions, is available on Teachers Pay Teachers. You can view the details here. Designed to make teaching engaging and seamless, this resource allows educators to focus on inspiring their students rather than spending hours preparing materials.

STEM Bottle Rockets

Some fun examples!

STEM Bottle Rockets

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *