picture-11.pngOnly a very cool teacher gives this kind of homework to her students… “Using only construction paper and tape, I want you to design a rocket.” Lisa Heaton, the Gifted and Talented teacher showed her students a specially designed rocket launcher made out of PVC plumbing parts from the local hardware store. The idea for the PVC rocket launcher comes from U.S. Space Camp for Educators curriculum. I had the privilege of assisting Mrs. Heaton with the launch of the paper rockets. As the students will share in the comments below, the first launch revealed their design strengths and flaws. The five students with the best launch served as mentors for the rest of the students as they returned to the classroom to repair and redesign their paper rockets. The second launch proved to be the real learning experience – be sure to read comments from the young rocketeers below.

picture-12.png“This rocket launch activity coincides with the students reading Rocket Boys (also known as October Sky) by Homer Hickam. I want these kids to experience first hand the feeling of failure and success through the trial and error process of building their own rockets… and this air-powered rocket launcher does the trick,” says Lisa Heaton as she turns to help a 5th grader repair a rocket that didn’t fair well during the first launch.

These 5th graders are also using this hands-on science experience to learn about the science of blogging (pun intended). Student bloggers from Mrs. Heaton’s class in past years posted blog comments about their rocket experience that were even read by Homer Hickam (the author of October Sky) himself. Be sure to read the student comments below.

23 replies
  1. Jared
    Jared says:

    Launching our paper rockets was so fun! Every rocket was unique in their own way and Steve Spangler helped encourage us every second of the way. My first rocket was short and fat but the nose cone wasn’t taped on very well. As I suspected, when I launched the rocket my nose cone popped off, but it was fine because we got to make a second rocket. My next rocket was much longer and skinnier because those were some of the characteristics of the successful rockets. I put clay in the nose cone to add weight and it paid off. The second launch went 50 or more feet farther than my first rocket. I learned that longer and skinnier rockets without fins fly the farthest. This was a very fun experience and I can’t express my gratitude to Steve more.

    Reply
  2. Stefan
    Stefan says:

    Today we launched paper rockets that we made in Mrs. Heaton’s class with Steve Spangler. It was truly an amazing, excellent tie in with the book we are reading, October Sky.

    My first rocket was the second farthest. If I had to guess, I’d say it went about 150 feet. I designed my rocket so that it would fit very snuggly around the PVC pipe that we launched our rockets from. I did this so that the air wouldn’t release from the bottom until the rocket was completely off of the PVC pipe. Also, my rocket had two layers, one thick and one thin. When I launched my rocket, the thin layer shot off while the thick layer stayed on the PBC pipe. At first, I didn’t mean for this to happen, but then I realized that it made my rocket go farther.

    After the first launch, we made modifications. I added more weight to the front and duct taped a part that was too flimsy. However, my modified rocket didn’t go as far. My hypothesis on why it didn’t go as far is because the weight at the front probably slowed it down. The weight even eventually came out of the rocket!

    If I could build and launch a paper rocket again, I wouldn’t make very many changes. For starters, I would take the weight out of the front. Also, I would make the tape I put on the body a lot tighter. Lastly, I would try to make the fins a little bit more aerodynamic.

    Overall, I’m proud of my rocket’s performance. I made a hypothesis at the beginning before I built my rocket, and that hypothesis turned out to be right! Today was one of the coolest classes I’ve ever had!

    Reply
  3. Zoe
    Zoe says:

    My first rocket wasn’t nearly as successful as I thought it would be, or as it looked like it would be, either. The figure was very arrow-dynamic, the fins all the same size, and it seemed like it had a rather secure nosecone. When I went to launch the rocket, Steve (Spangler) told me that he a good feeling that mine would really far, perhaps the farthest or at least in the top five. But when I turned the nozzle to make it soar up into the air, it only flew about ten feet before the pressure of the air made the nosecone blow off. It fell to the ground at a pathetic distance, and I couldn’t wait until I was able to go back in and remodel.
    When we went back to the classroom, I found the duct tape and just rapped it around and around the nosecone, making it so that there was absolutely positively no way that it could blow off during its flight. That was the only thing that I changed, and the result was worth watching. It shot off the launch pad and flew through the air, landing in fifth place of all of the rockets for the entire class. Another thing that helped my rocket fly better was that by putting the duct tape on the nose, it made it so that there was more weight on the nose than there was on the tail, and this is how the professional rockets are built.
    During this experience I learned that it pays off to take your time while building a rocket to make sure that it is totally ready to fly, and that the nose cone is tight and there is more weight in the front than there is in the back.

    Reply
  4. Zoe
    Zoe says:

    My first rocket wasn’t nearly as successful as I thought it would be, or as it looked like it would be, either. The figure was very arrow-dynamic, the fins all the same size, and it seemed like it had a rather secure nosecone. When I went to launch the rocket, Steve (Spangler) told me that he a good feeling that mine would really far, perhaps the farthest or at least in the top five. But when I turned the nozzle to make it soar up into the air, it only flew about ten feet before the pressure of the air made the nosecone blow off. It fell to the ground at a pathetic distance, and I couldn’t wait until I was able to go back in and remodel.
    When we went back to the classroom, I found the duct tape and just rapped it around and around the nosecone, making it so that there was absolutely positively no way that it could blow off during its flight. That was the only thing that I changed, and the result was worth watching. It shot off the launch pad and flew through the air, landing in fifth place of all of the rockets for the entire class. Another thing that helped my rocket fly better was that by putting the duct tape on the nose, it made it so that there was more weight on the nose than there was on the tail, and this is how the professional rockets are built.
    During this experience I learned that it pays off to take your time while building a rocket to make sure that it is totally ready to fly, and that the nose cone is tight and there is more weight in the front than there is in the back.

    Reply
  5. SarahKate
    SarahKate says:

    Boom! Crash! Those were the two first words that came from my rocket, which I called Octey. Octey wasn’t a big success because when I built my rocket, I wasn’t thinking about how to make it fly best by weight, so my rocket was really light. It took off the launch pad and traveled about a couple of feet before it soared on down to the ground. I thought about what I could have done better in mind while I watched the other kids’ rockets fly up into the sky and land onto the hill… 150 feet away from my own. When we went back to the classroom to rebuild our rocket designs, I made a brand new one that looked, weighed and felt nothing like Octey the first. I covered my new rocket with black duct tape and then, made the nose-cone with different materials. After that, we went back outside and got our rockets ready. And as I walked up to the launch pad to make Octey#2 fly, I wondered how far this one would go. So I waited, and waited, and waited…Phew!! It soared up into the sky and then crashed down. It went farther I said to myself as a smile appeared on my face. Building rockets is really fun, you should try it sometime!

    Reply
  6. michael
    michael says:

    Today with Steve Spangler we blew up a couple of rockets and launched some 200 ft. They were paper rockets though, and only powered by air. These may not seem scientific but they sure are. You’ve got to have aerodynamics and just the right amount of weight in the right place.
    In my first rocket I had a thick piece of water colored paper that was taped together with duct tape. Then I twined a bit of electrical tape around. I also put a nose cone on and thoroughly taped it shut so it wouldn’t blow off. The last thing I put on were a set of three large fins that stuck out of my rocket. This rocket shot off, but the wings were too big and unstable, and there was not enough weight in the front.
    In my next rocket I put lots of clay in the nose cone and took off the wings. This would have been great if I shoved my rocket all the way down the launching tube. Because I didn’t, the rocket didn’t fly straight and didn’t go much further than the last one.

    Reply
  7. Paul
    Paul says:

    Today we shoot rockets off of PVC pipe. We built the rockets out of paper and tape. My rocket was about eight in. long and it fit snug on the pipe. I put on three triangular fins. I wrapped duct tape around the main tube and the nose cone to make it stronger; it would also have more weight on the front making it stay straight. My rocket flew straight and landed about 120 ft from the starting point.
    After the first launch we got to revise our rockets, I decided to cut off the bottom two inches to make it weigh less. The second launch it went only 20 ft. I learned that you would want your rocket to be long and have fins.
    If I were to do this again I would make the tube 10 in. long. I would also give it a slow pointing nose cone, have it fit snugly on the tube, and keep it together with light tape.

    Reply
  8. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    My first rocket was a skinny yellow paper rocket called Sky Blazer I because of its bright color. I would say it went about forty feet from the launch pad. It did not get in one of the top five rockets (that went the farthest) but it did go fast. I needed to put more layers of paper in the center and decrease the size of the fins. I also added duck-tape to the nose cone but, it didn’t help that much. My second launch was definitely better than my first because the Sky Blazer I ½ ( I ½ because it was the same rocket but had improvements) went one hundred feet. That was a great improvement. If I could do this for hours and keep improving my rocket like Sonny in the book Rocket Boys also known as October Sky, I might have a rocket as well done as his.

    Reply
  9. Brooke R.
    Brooke R. says:

    Launching Rockets was a wonderful experience. Mrs. Heaton gave us material to build the rockets and she told us nothing about building them. I had no experience in launching rockets. The first time I launched my rocket it went about twenty feet. That one was no too good. It was made of paper, duct tape, and stickers which I decorated it with. I made the rocket into a tube shape, cut out fins; duct taped them on, made the nose cone and covered the rocket in duct tape. It was called Fiesta Airlines. After that launching and everyone else’s, we went back inside to improve out rockets (we used the trial and error process.). When I went back in I made my rocket with two layers of paper, put clay in the nose cone for more weight, didn’t cover it in duct tape, and made the rocket longer as well as the nose cone. I named that the Fiesta Rocket. The new plane was based on the most successful rocket but mine wasn’t as successful. My new rocket went ten more feet than my other one. Even though my rockets didn’t go that far, I still had a great time with Steve. Mrs. Heaton, and the rockets!

    Reply
  10. Haley
    Haley says:

    Today in class we launched our own rockets. We had made them during previous classes out of paper, tape, and other materials. We all had a blast launching them. The first rocket I launched was called the Atomic Mushroom. It was made mostly of paper and duct tape. It didn’t go very far though. So, after everyone launched we went back inside and modified our rockets. I started all over, and created a new rocket for our next launch. My 2nd rocket was named the Masked Stranger, because I had used a lot of masking tape. The Masked Stranger didn’t have any fins attached to it. When we went out to launch again, the Masked Stranger went much farther than the Atomic Mushroom. This taught me that when making paper rockets, it’s not always a good idea to make your rocket very heavy. The Atomic Mushroom (being covered in duct tape) weighed far more than the Masked Stranger. You want a little weight so it doesn’t go anywhere but not so much that it goes into a dive as soon as it’s off the launching pad. I really enjoyed launching our rockets today, thank you Mr. Spangler and Mrs. Heaton!

    Haley

    Reply
  11. Brett
    Brett says:

    During reading class today, we set off paper rockets we had been working on for about two days. My launches did not go as expected but made very good progress in the field of knowledge. On my first try, my rocket did not go very far. It shot up very slowly and made about 15 ft. But what was interesting about that is that the nose cone did not blow off but instead stuck to the side of my rocket. It turned out that the top two rockets were Brooke’s and Stefan’s. I got into a group with Stefan who is a good friend to me and I studied his rocket. I figured my rocket had been too tight so it didn’t get off the launch pad as easily as it should to get far. Stefan also had a second layer so that nothing important would come off. I tried the same thing but got a little too thin with the paper. When we came out to launch I was pretty sure my rocket would do a lot better than the one I first set off. The rocket didn’t do better in length but it did better in a state of mind I’m sure Homer Hickam imagined. As soon as I pulled the lever, my rocket exploded in to pieces, including the inside sticking to the PVC pipe. It wasn’t so bad because everyone cheered me on after it exploded and Steve Spangler talked about how “Sonny”? probably had a bunch of his rockets explode. I ended up setting it on the couch and putting a grave stone with RIP engraved on it. This was a very fun experience and I am looking forward to doing this the day 9 news comes.

    Reply
  12. Steven
    Steven says:

    Today, Mrs. Heaton and the whole class launched off rockets behind our classroom. There were many different designs of rockets such as the two bodied rocket, the no-fin rocket, and the tight rocket. I designed my first rocket like a full fin (covers all of the main body) because I thought that this would make it rise more. I then put a lot of weight by adding duct tape to my nose. This rocket did not go as far as I hoped. Although it did go 7thfarthest it didn’t do very good. My next rocket that I designed was shorter than the first and had no fins at all. Since I followed the peers that rockets went the farthest, this 2nd rocket almost doubled its length. The rocket ended up getting 6th place.

    Reply
  13. Elly
    Elly says:

    Today was the best day we’ve had with Steve so far. We did so many things that were exciting. First we built our rockets beforehand, and then we launched them. Then, we modified our rockets, so they would go farther. Next, we launched the new rocket, and we now have to think about how we modified our rockets, and what happened the second time.
    First I had a rocket made completely out of Duct tape. But, the fins on that rocket were bent, so I think that’s why it didn’t go very far. Also as Steve says, “Sometimes Duct tape is your friend,”? and this time, Duct tape was not my friend. The Duct tape was making my rocket heavier, and that was bad, because our rockets should have been lighter than mine was.
    When I modified my rocket, I took off the wings that I had, and I put on some very sturdy, thick, paper wings instead. I also put some clay in the top of my rocket, to make it heavier. When we went outside to launch them, I put mine on the valve, and I launched it again. It didn’t go as far as I expected it to. (But doesn’t everyone expect theirs to go far?)
    I learned that bigger isn’t always better when it comes to launching rockets. This means that our rockets- in my opinion- should have been just a simple base, and a nose cone that is a little heavier than the base.

    Reply
  14. Mary
    Mary says:

    I think that launching rockets in class showed a great example of the Rocket boys in the book October Sky. This gave a demonstration of the trial and error process. My first rocket design included four fins, a nose cone as the point, and of course a tubular body made out of paper. I shaped the fins so that it was a rectangle, but rounded the lower half of the outside edge. I put two of the fins across from each other on the outer part of the body and the other two ninety degrees opposite from the first two fins. This rocket only flew about 5-7 feet away from its launching place. When I made my second design I only put three fins of the same shape at the very bottom of the rocket. Then I put clay in the top nose cone. This rocket flew much better than the first…over 100 feet from the launch pad. If I could make one more rocket, I would change the shape of my fins to a triangle and put more clay in the nose cone. I will keep my second rocket forever to remind me of what a great experience I’ve had with this class.

    Reply
  15. Craig
    Craig says:

    While learning how to fly paper rockets with Steve Spangler we had to do two different rockets. One that we didn’t know what we were doing and one that we did know what we were doing. My first attempt went wrong because it went only about five feet and the nose cone blew off. I didn’t fail I learned how not to make a rocket. My wings were to long outwards and my nose cone was unstable. When I went back to make my second one instead of using foam I used hard paper. My wings were smaller and I put clay in the top for stabilization. Instead of flying five feet it flew about one hundred and twenty five feet! You may make a cool designed rocket but it ruins the point if it doesn’t fly. You can’t put too much weight on your rocket.

    Reply
  16. Marco Z.
    Marco Z. says:

    I like that Steve Spangler brought equipment to our rocket launch. He helped us learn through the rocket activity that, if there is an obstacle in your way, remove it. He taught us this by letting us launch one rocket first, seeing how far it flew, and then rebuilding the rocket and removing any parts that might slow it down. I noticed that once we had remodeled our rockets they flew three times as far as they normally would fly. I think that this was a very good, hands-on lesson about removing obstacles in the way of progress.

    Reply
  17. Brooke A.
    Brooke A. says:

    I gain knowledge of knowing how to build a successful paper rocket today. The incredible experience took place out side of our school, and our class launched each paper rocket into the air. The great scientist Steve Spangler and our awesome GT Teacher at Willow Creek Elementary, Mrs. Heaton, held the launching process. I learned that in constructing a victorious launch I had to put all of the weight of my rocket in the front near the nose-cone. I added a mound of clay to the inside of my nose-cone. I knew that too much mass in or on the rocket would affect its ability to fly. After I completed the first stage of my rocket, I assembled the second stage by adding a smaller but thicker layer around my rocket. It turns out that when my rocket was launched into the air, the first stage of my rocket soared farther than any other, while the second stage slid right off the end of my rocket and landed about 5 yards from the air compressor that we used to launch our paper creations. My rocket flew approximately 209 feet from the launching pad. I chose not to change any of my design, but I did tape my nose-cone down more securely onto my rocket. My second attempt I decided to stay away from the second stage and stick to just launching the first. I turned out that my second launch landed about 10 feet short of my first.

    Reply
  18. Renae
    Renae says:

    Today our class went and launched rockets with Steve Spangler. My rocket’s design was of blue construction paper, cardboard paper for fins and nose cone, colored duct tape and green ribbon, measuring up to nine inches long. The first launch of “Little Blue”, my rocket, traveled only a few inches due to the nose cone blowing off. The rocket went approximately three feet in the air. I was very disappointed at my design but at least it did not explode.

    On my second launch I made a smaller nose cone and used duct tape to reinforce the nose cone to the body of the rocket. When we launched the rocket again the nose cone stayed secure and the rocket went approximately 98 feet instead of a few inches.

    If I was to be paid to launch “Little Blue”, I would have made sure the nose cone was on securely, the fins were aligned correctly and were the same size. I have learned that my fins made my rocket spin when in the air, and my commrades’ rockets that had no fins had a straighter and longer path.

    Reply
  19. Harry
    Harry says:

    Today, Tuesday May 8, 2007 our class launched paper rocket made of paper of course and tape. My best rocket went about 100 feet. The first one of my rockets was paper and duct tape. Lots and lots of duct tape. It also had two fins. They taped so just a little bit of one was on top of the other. I placed them near the bottom opening. After the first launch we went into the class room and there I put on a new top cone, with some clay (to give it more weight) in the cone. I also took the fins off. The first one of my rockets did better. I learned that length, fins, and weight had a lot to do with the launching of rockets.

    Reply
  20. Dennis
    Dennis says:

    I think this program is fantastic and I admire the students and thier teacher, but I was very disturbed to see the students launching rockets at a steep angle, as well as launching toward the videographer.

    The National Association of Rocketry’s model rocket safety code states in part: “I will launch my rocket … pointed to within 30 degrees of the vertical to ensure that the rocket flies nearly straight up…” and “I will not launch my rocket at targets….”

    Safety First!

    Reply
  21. Stefan
    Stefan says:

    It might sound like we were being really dangerous, but the rockets we launched at the cameraman were just straws. No harm was done.

    Reply
  22. Connor
    Connor says:

    Hi, I know this is a REALLY old post but I’m doin’ it anyways. This year, we had Steve Spangler come over to my school Willow Creek for a rocket launch. We had three launches. The first two were for fun but the third was for a prize. I won the prize which was a stomp rocket.

    Reply

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