Willow Creek Rocket Launch

IMG_1795.jpgHouston, we have lift-off! Fifth graders from Mrs. Heaton’s class at Willow Creek Elementary invited me to participate in their annual paper rocket launch. The rockets were made from construction paper, tape and clay… that’s it. No engines or explosives in these rockets – the only fuel was 30 pounds of air pressure. I learned how to make the rocket launcher several years ago while speaking to teachers at SpaceIMG_17911.jpg Camp for Educators in Huntsville, Alabama. The morning started with each student making their first launch. Some of the rocket designs were great while others just blew up on the launch pad. It was back to the drawing board as the students reanalyzed their designs, fixed the flaws and headed out for the second launch. The success rate for the second launch was well above 80%… and the young rocket engineers were amazed to see their success.
The greatest learning moment of the entire morning was the numerous failures the students experienced on their first attempt.

The students expected success… and when they failed it forced them to re-tool and try again. This hands-on rocket activity is all a part of Mrs. Heaton’s science and literature integration with Homer Hickam’s October Sky. This single lesson does more to drive home the importance of trial and error than anything I’ve seen in years. Best of all, the students write about their successes and failures and what they learned as part of a blogging activity. Last year, Linda and Homer Hickam found Mrs. Heaton’s blog and posted their own entry.

Every good teacher gives homework… and tonight’s homework is in the form of a blog post. Each of the students will share what they learned from this activity and how it relates to October Sky. Their comments appear below.

Top rocket scientists in training. The students on the left had rockets that flew over 50 meters, and the two top rocket masters blasted their paper rockets over 100 meters.



20 replies
  1. James
    James says:

    Whoosh”¦We have lift off!. Today with Steve Spangler was sooooooooo fun. We got to launch rockets that we made. On my first rocket launch my rocket went super high, but not too far. On the other hand Stephen had a great rocket, it hit the back stop on his first try. I was then going to ask Stephen what he did to the cap of his rocket. Steve said if I put more weight in the top of my rocket it would fly. What I did to fix my rocket was make a new nose cap, then put clay in the nose cap. Then I asked Stephen what he did to make his nose cap stay on. He told me to just keep on taping it and taping it. I did what he said. When time came for the competition, the second launch my rocket flew about 50 meters! I got third in the competition. This really was a stunning experience.

  2. Tayler
    Tayler says:

    Today was so much fun in Mrs. Heatons reading class. It was a lot of fun launching the rockets that we had made in class. My rocket had come in third the first time we were ready for take-off. I felt very proud to come in thrid place. My rocket was pretty sucsessful our first try. I would say that alot of peoples rockets were better than mine. When we went inside to build a different rocket, I did a similar design but I tryed to re-enforce the nose cone with scotch tape. I think I should not have used scotch tape because it is not as strong as other tape. The second time we launched our rockets I was not so happy. My nose cap blew off therefore my rocket did not make it off the launch pad. All in all I had a great time.

  3. Shannon
    Shannon says:

    We have liftoff!! Today was one of the most fun days I’ve ever had. The first time that we launched our paper rockets with Steve Spangler, a lot of people were disappointed. My rocket didn’t fit on the launch pad, so when I went back inside I totally redesigned my rocket. It turned out, that I did the right thing! My rocket came in 7th place. Asha’s rocket was just a little bit in front of me. Personally, I was just glad that it flew. One problem that a lot of people had with their first rockets was that their nose cone blew of, so the rocket didn’t go anywhere. Steve didn’t tell us about the nose cone problem until we were building our 2nd rockets. Today’s experience was SOOOO fun!! 🙂

  4. Stephen
    Stephen says:

    Today was one of the best days that we have had so far this year in Ms. Heaton’s reading class. Steve Spangler came to our class today and helped us launch our paper rockets. On our second launch we were much more successful than our first. Some of the first launches were complete failures, but by the second launch a lot of ours got twice as far as our first. My rocket design was a lucky guess, so mine went far the first time. When we went back inside to reconstruct our rockets, a lot of people were asking questions such as these: “Do these look like your fins?”? or “How do you make such a tight nose cone?”? To tell the truth, it wasn’t very fun having to put a new nose cone on my own rocket and help say “˜yes’ or “˜no, you have to”¦’ I didn’t like that attention as much as I thought I would.
    My first launch was very good. Before we launched James kept saying, “Yours is going to go far because it is hard. I wish I made mine harder like yours.”? When we finally launched our first rocket I wasn’t very nervous. I was one of the last launchers so I saw that not very many were going very far. I noticed that a lot of the nose cones came off. I was glad I heavily taped my nose cone on. When it was my turn I barely looked up because I didn’t think my rocket was going to go nearly as far as it did. When I noticed the rocket wasn’t where I was looking for it, I looked up, and saw my rocket barely hit the backstop, at least one hundred yards away. A lot of people already started to say “Show me how you built your rocket!”?
    When we went back inside to reconstruct our rockets, I decided to try more wait in the nose cone. I put more clay in it. I also helped people getting a tight nose cone, and I helped them tape it down really well. My first title, NEWSPAPER 1, didn’t seem to fit my rocket anymore. I changed the name to WHITE FIRE 1, because my rocket is mainly white, with some pink and yellow added on to it. It was time to launch our second rocket.
    This time I was one of the first ones to launch our rockets. I was really worried that I might of added to much wait to the front. Turns out, I was wrong and my new rocket, WHITE FIRE 1, cleared over one hundred meters. This might be because I new my rocket would fly the farthest if I had the launcher at a 90 degree angle. I shot my rocket and it landed in one of my fellow class mates backyard. I was worried her dog was going to chew it up. I sure am lucky that her mom came outside and threw my rocket over the fence before the dog got to it.
    Now I hope you can tell why today, April 14, 2006 was such a successful day for Ms. Heaton’s fifth grade reading class.

  5. Alec
    Alec says:

    Today Steve Spangler came into class and helped launch our paper rockets. When I launched my rocket the first time, I thought it would at least get off the launch pad but it just moved a few inches and the nose cone was blown off. Also the first time launching my rocket was suspenseful because it was completely unpredictable what the rocket was going to do. My first launch was unsuccessful, but I knew what I needed to change. Someone else was definitely better. His name was Stephen and his rocket launched the farthest on the first launch. His rocket went about 85 to 95 meters. The second opportunity was great because then you knew what to change and yours would most likely go farther. I learned to seal the nose cone around the body well or the air would blow off the nose cone when launched. I also learned to make your fins strong so they won’t flap around in the wind. When I launched my second time around I was positive mine would go farther but not as far as it did. It flew about 75 to 85 meters. This is similar to Sonny Hickman’s experience because we were adding on to our “body of knowledge”? and not giving up because your first attempt was a flop. When I made my changes on my rocket I taped the nose cone so it wouldn’t get blown off. I also taped the whole body to add weight, and I taped the fins to make them sturdier. If I had another chance to launch a rocket this is what I would do differently. I would rename my rocket “Auk II Generation II”? and make it shorter because the shorter rockets seemed to fly farther. It was a lot of fun having a rocket competition and I have been waiting for that all year. Thanks again Steve.

  6. Grant
    Grant says:

    My first rocket worked no better than my second. I
    still don’t why, but I’ll problably look back someday and
    say: “Oh! So that’s what I did wrong!” My first rocket,
    the Yin Yang, flew a lot less farther than I expected.
    It only went ablout 7 feet or so. Rocket #2, otherwise
    known as Scotland the Brave, went an inch farther than
    Yin Yang. I also noticed that many peoples rockets were
    crush or had their nosecones blown off during launch.
    My dad and are looking forward to buying a model launch
    rocket kit, so my rocket can reach the stars.

  7. Mrs. Heaton
    Mrs. Heaton says:

    Does anyone remember our friend Wayne? (or was it Isaac?) Can anyone apply one of his principles to our rocket launching lesson?

  8. Ethan Kotel
    Ethan Kotel says:

    My original rocket, the White Lightning 1, didn’t clear the pad. The nose cone wasn’t attached securely enough, and when Steve pressed the button, it blew off, leaving the tube sitting on the pad. In my adjustment stage, I enlisted Steve’s help, and we glued a ball of clay into the top of my new rocket, the Icean Glory. Then, we taped the ball down securely, fitted fins on the back, and created a nosecone to put over the top. It was an incredibly streamline model, and the clay helped balance the rocket as well as rebound the air to push it off the pad. The key to a good rocket is a secure nosecone. I was very proud of the Icean Glory after it placed 7th (just my luck they photographed the top 6).

  9. Asha
    Asha says:

    On April 14 I had the lucky oppertunity to launch rockets because of our book, October Sky. On Thursday, the day before, we created our rockets. I had no clue what to so to make it fly straight. I did know that equal weight on the top and bottom will help. So I lined the top and bottom with modeling clay. The ORANGE DRAGON 4000 had 4 fins that may have been to small. My first nose cone was kind of pathetic, it was puny and taped on. I was sort of feeling apprehensive over if my rocket would fly or not.
    On Friday, Steve bruoght the rocket launcher. I was expecting this huge thing with fuel and fire. But, it was a small white machine which was pretty cool. Unfortunately, I had to go first, because I was first in alphabetical order. It was amazing, my rocket went
    quite far, but not high. The pathetic nose cone blew up! My heart seemed to soar just as far as my rocket.
    When we got back I decided to ask Steve how I could make mine go further. He superglued my new nose cone on and we stuffed it with clay, and sealed it with duck tape. This time I felt confident as I walked outside. The WHITE DRAGON 4000 felt brand new. I had to go last this time, we were going backwards. My rocket flew so well. But, other people had beat me. I felt disappointed and happy at the same time. I did get 6th place out of the whole class. Today my rocket stands happily on my desk. It will remind me of this awesome experience. Steve Spangler rocks!!!

  10. Connor
    Connor says:

    Wow! It was incredible. The science genius, Steve Spangler, came back to our school again today to help us launch paper rockets. Before we launched the first time, I thought that my rocket was going to be outstanding. It seemed basic, when so many others had complex rockets. I was one of the first people to launch because we went in alphabetical order. Even after the first two people, I realized that I had a big problem. I had never thought of it when designing my rocket but thirty pounds of air pressure is pretty intense. My nose cone was held on by hot glue until I went to launch. When I launched the first time, I didn’t expect anything. As it turned out, the nose cone didn’t hold. It just went flying from the top of my rocket. The actual rocket part never left the pad! Mine was completely unsuccessful and it totally stunk. When I thought about my failure, I was really upset at first. Then I saw how many other people had the exact same problem. I finally figured out that it was a problem that could be fixed. Stephen was one of the people in the middle of the order to launch. He’s was pure genius. His went all the way from the mobile at the back of the school and hit the backstop at the other side of the school! I was so jealous. He was the real rocket scientist the first time. I was actually quite shocked that someone came up with ideas that would work so well without any help. It was time for redesign after everyone launched. It was time for an expert’s advice. I didn’t want to blow my second chance. He gave me one suggestion that would change the whole architecture of the rocket. He told me forget the nose cone and add clay. I took his suggestion and changed the way my rocket would be looked at. I added a lot more extra clay to the top and then duct-taped the paper together to hold it all together. I taped it well so that I didn’t experience the same problem again. I took another extra step to protect my rocket. I took more duct tape and reinforced the whole rocket. With his advice I had a good feeling about the second launch. I was the last one to go because we went in backwards alphabetical order and I accidentally got skipped. I was the last one to go. I held my rocket up on the launch pad and Steve said to me, “If it holds, it will fly big.”? Then all I could hope was that it would hold very well. “5, 4, 3, 2, 1!”? There it went. I couldn’t seem to locate in the sky. I didn’t look down because I was afraid that I had created another failure. So I continued to look up and up and after a long wait, I found it rising in the sky. Before I launched, James was in second place, little did he know that he was about to be bumped up to third. Mine almost cleared the fence that Stephen’s went over. It actually hit the fence. James was in a state of shock while I was feeling so successful. James said to me over and over, “I was positive that I had the second place spot and I had no idea that it was going to do so well because it flopped the first time.”? I was a little hurt by that but I didn’t care because I had done so well. I learned that if you are going to have a nose cone that it better be on good. I felt fantastic. I now know how Sonny has felt trying and failing so many times and how he has felt great about all of his successes. It was so similar to his experiences because he had to go through a process of trial and error and even he had a little help from other people in town. The next time the only thing that I’d do differently is maybe have cardboard wings instead of tag board fins. It is now a great hobby of mine to build a lot of paper rockets. This was the best experience that we’ve ever had in Mrs. Heaton’s 5th grade reading class.

  11. Mercedes M.
    Mercedes M. says:

    Cape Canaveral, here we come!! Friday the 14th we had Mr.Steve Spangler come and prep us for Cape Canaveral. We had built paper rockets the previous day and then on Friday we lifted them off. it felt really great when my first rocket took off into the sky and landed far away from ther launch pad. I was very successful. Steven M.’s went over the fence of someone’s yard and their dog almost ate it. The changes that I made from my first launch was that I added some clay to the top of the nose cone and then taped the nose cone all over. it went a lot farther then my first rocket. I was very, very pleased with this rocket. I can’t wait untill we can launch to the sky again.

  12. Ryan
    Ryan says:

    Steve came in on Friday so we could launch the rockets we’d worked on the day before. When we went outside and set it up I was surprised at how it worked. When we started to launch the rockets everyone was so confident that their rocket was going to fly! They were all wrong; just about every rocket blew up except for Collin’s and Stephen’s. Their rocket flew so far that one of them hit the backstop. Steve then told us that we had not secured the nose cone enough to make sure it didn’t come off. We all went inside and taped it down nice and tight. I didn’t though, I thought I could just hot glue it and the put some clay in the top. I didn’t have enough time to put loads of tape on, so when I launched my rocket, it didn’t go as planned. The rocket blew up and all the clay inside went everywhere. It stunk because I was one of the only people in the class to have an unsuccessful launch the second time. If I could do it again, I would put a lot of tape on the nose cone along with the clay and hot glue. If I had done that, I believe the weight would have been so perfect, it could have launched over the house on the other side of the field! Even though we only got to shoot two rockets, I believe we now have a great understanding of what Sonny’s rocket building is like.

  13. collin
    collin says:

    My rocket was great! Though it failed the second time which actually counted. Sadly it came to me. if i would have just kept my rocket the way it was i woulda done good.o well its for fun and i didn’t really care because it’s a papper rocket. all and all i had fun with steve spangler.

  14. Alec
    Alec says:

    Mrs. Heaton asked about Isaac Newton’s laws of physics and how they relate to our launch. My rocket stayed on the launch pad until an external force was applied to it (the air from Steve’s launcher). My rocket from my second launch stayed in a state of motion until a force was applied to it (gravity and air pressure). This demonstrates Newton’s first law.
    Newton’s third law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The action is Steve’s launcher applying 30 lbs of air pressure into our rockets. The reaction should be the rockets launching into the air. My first rocket did not do this because my nose cone fell off. I redesigned the nose cone by taping it more securely around the body of the rocket. My second launch was successful and the rocket flew which demonstrated Newton’s third law.

  15. Ryan M
    Ryan M says:

    Today was the most fun day of the year in Mrs. Heaton’s G.T. reading class! I had so much fun launching rockets with the class. My first rocket only went about 4 feet, but after a few minor adjustments; my second rocket soared into 5th place. My original rocket had a good nose cone, a small body, and full casement fins. After my first failure launch, I made a new rocket. This rocket was longer; I cut the nose cone off my old rocket and instead of fastening it on with hot glue, I connected it to the casement with duct tape. I added some more clay in the nose cone to make my rocket heavier and to make it go farther. I didn’t have time to put on the fins, but this time they were quarters of a circle, and I was going to put 3 of them on. Because I didn’t put fins on, my rocket flopped all around, and at the end it curved way over to the right. Kids in my class say that my rocket would have gone much farther if it did have fins. Stephen’s rocket did the best on both tries on the first try his hit the backdrop, and on the second try his rocket went over the fence into a neighboring yard (About 100 ft.). I think that this relates to Sonny in a ton of ways. Sonny goes through the same experience when he builds his rockets. He has to find the size of his rocket, what type of fins his rocket has, and how the casement and nose cone will be shaped. Also he feels successful after a good launch and after a bad launch, he feels as though he learned something and he goes back and fixes his mistake. I think that all the kids in Mrs. Heaton’s class had a wonderful time today.

  16. Wade
    Wade says:

    In Mrs. Heatons class we launched paper rockets. The experience was amazing. The first time we launched are rockets mine was a catastrophe. The rocket did not even get off the launcher. The only thing that got off the ground was my nose cone. the second time I did it my rocket was great. It flew wit no problem what so ever. I really enjoyed launching rockets with Steve. Thanks for the experience Mr. Spangler.

  17. Pat Mitchell-Karl
    Pat Mitchell-Karl says:

    What a wonderful learning experience for all the children who participated in this rocket launching. My grandson Stephen Morton was one of the children and I am so proud of him.

  18. Cooper
    Cooper says:

    Newton’s Laws of Motion
    Cooper Solich

    On April 18, 2006 I learned about Newton’s 1st and 3rd laws of motion by doing the Huff and Puff and Hex Nut card trick. On April 19th we made and launched rockets to see if they could fly. The 1st law talks about every object being at rest or in a straight line unless something or someone moves it. Newton’s 3rd law of motion says that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Launching a rocket relates to Newton’s 1st law because the compressed air caused the rocket to move. Launching a rocket relates to Newton’s 3rd law because the air released under the rocket is the action and the compressed are pushing the rocket up is the reaction.

    Everyone in my class made their own rockets out of paper, duct tape and foil. We all launched them in our school playground in the afternoon. My rocket went 4 or 5 feet in the air and fell down. My wing was a bit damaged but not too bad. The best in my class went about 30 feet and the best overall went about 40 feet. If I could do mine over I think I would not make mine so heavy. The better rockets felt lighter than mine. It was a really fun experiment.

  19. James
    James says:

    Some suggestions for the Wilder Elementary are they should, when they have some free time, read the book October Sky. It will help them understand the rockets more. Then they will know more how the rockets launch. Also, the book is pretty tough to read. Plus, they should maybe blog some questions to us, Willow Creek Elementary School. 🙂


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