4th Graders Building Rockets – Inspired by October Sky

Today, the fourth graders at Wilder Elementary got the strangest homework assignment… Go home and build a rocket! Earlier in the week, the students gather together and watched the movie October Sky, based on Homer Hickam’s novel, Rocket Boys. I was invited to visit each of the 4th grade classes to share some of the science behind building rockets. Some simple demonstrations of Newton’s Laws turned into some excitement in the classroom as cups filled with water flew across the room, potatoes smashed into the walls and kids turned film canisters into mini flying machines, powered by water and Alka-Seltzer. Tonight’s homework is to build a rocket out of construction paper. The students learned about center of gravity, aerodynamics and Newton’s Third Law (For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction).

This curriculum is based on work presented by the U.S. Space Camp for Educators program. Here’s the curriculum.

Lisa Heaton is a great teacher at Willow Creek Elementary in Centennial, Colorado, who has taught her students how to share their discoveries on the Internet using a safe way to blog for students. Visit Lisa Heaton’s blog to see what her students are doing.

I also invited the students to write their first comment on a blog by responding to this post. Click on the comments below. Tomorrow we launch! Stay tuned…

70 replies
  1. Mrs. Bower's class
    Mrs. Bower's class says:

    Wow! Mr. Spangler what a great time we had in class today. Thank you for teaching us about Newton’s laws. We are very excited to do our homework tonight. :0) Please look for our individual comments coming soon. We can’t wait for our launch tomorrow. It will be a “blast!”

  2. Tori
    Tori says:

    Mr. Spangler taught us many things today. But, when he teaches us he makes it fun. He taught us Newton’s laws by showing me how to pull a tablecloth off a full, set table. He also told us our homework was to build rockets!!!! STEVE SPANGLER RULES!!!! Goodbye peeps!

  3. Eva
    Eva says:

    Wow! I’m Eva and today in science we made film canisters fly by putting water in them and then adding half a tablet of Alka-Seltzer. Then, we put the cap on tight and put the canister upside-down in a cup then……. BOOOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! our film canister went flying. I can’t wait until we launch our rockets! It’ll be great!
    P.S. My rockets name is The Comet 5.

  4. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    I thought building rockets was so much fun. I can’t what until tomorrow for blast off. It was so related to October Sky by showing us how hard it was. I can’t what to learn more about space and rockets .

  5. katie
    katie says:

    I loved a part of the school day, today. Mr. Spangler came in and we did many things. He taught us how to pull a tablecloth off of a flat surface, with something. Today, he taught us how to do it with a dining set. Also, we learned Newton’s laws. Then, he taught us how to build rockets. Our homework was to finish the rockets. That was very cool. I hope Mr. Spangler will come back again. He is very fun and nice. We even get to launch our rockets tomorrow. That will also be very fun. I sure enjoy this project!

  6. matthew
    matthew says:

    dear Mr. Spangler
    Thank you for teaching my class and I how to build our own rockets. I am rally exited for tommow when we launch them.:.)I am working on improving my rocket for the test tommarow.I think this is an awsome experiment.

  7. Samantha A.
    Samantha A. says:

    Mr. Spangler, it was a really funny andawsome lesson today. Especially when you used Melissa as a mop to wipe Jake’s desk!!!!!!! It was cool when Emily pulleda cloth from under a plate without disturbing it. Thanks sooooo much. It was the best!!!!!!!

  8. Emily
    Emily says:

    Today was AWESOME!!!!!!! Mr.Spangler tought us to make rockets and showed us the three laws of gravity. The potatoe gun was really cool! Now I just need some potatoe action for my rocket tomarrow….

  9. Megan M.
    Megan M. says:

    Dear,Mr.Steve Spangler,
    thank you for telling us about rockets and about other amazing things. That is why I like science so much. I never thought my classmates would ever be that happy today. I’d never been so happy either. I had tons of fun today instead of math. Thank You!

  10. Jason B.
    Jason B. says:

    hi how ya doing? can you give me some advice about rockets? tomorrow my classmates and I are flying rockets that we created (Mr. Spangler helped). I engoied the movie about you,
    Jason B.

  11. David
    David says:

    I really loved building my rocket. I can’t wait to launch it tomorrow. I hope we can because of the snowy weather. Thanks so much for taking the time to come to our classroom and teach us how to build rockets. ‘Rocket’ On!

  12. Will G.
    Will G. says:

    Today Steve Spangler taught us about Newton’s Law. He did a bunch of cool experiments like showing us how to pull off a tablecloth from a fully set table. It was a blast!!!

  13. Bethany
    Bethany says:

    Today I learned many things such as the laws of gravity
    or Newton’s laws.I had fun with everything like when you used Melissa for a mop and when you made us oath to not do
    what ever you did to do at home but to do it at a friends
    house.I think it awsome when you made Mrs.Culver pull a table cloth out from under 2 plates with potatoes on them,
    1 bowl,3 spoons, and 1 glass full of water.Mr.Spangler,
    I hope you got a chance to read this! YOU ROCK!!!! See ya!

  14. Jessie K.
    Jessie K. says:

    Today Mr.Spangler came and we learned many things. We learned Newton’s 3 Laws. We also made rockets. Tomorrow we will launch our rockets. I am excited! I will see Mr. Spangler tomorrow. Thank you!!

  15. Skylar
    Skylar says:

    Hi, my favorite part was when you spilled water on Jake’s
    desk and used Melissa to wipe it up. Thank you for teaching us the laws of Newton.

  16. Natalie
    Natalie says:

    Dear Mr. Spangler,

    We had a rockin time! I learned from my mistakes.I had to make the rocket Skinnier! I had so much fun. You probably won’t come for 4th grade againthis year ,but I can’t wait till next yesr.READY SET LAUNCH !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thankyou again!!

  17. kate
    kate says:

    Mr. Spangler thanks so much for coming to our class and teach us about Newton’s laws. That was so cool how the the potato went flying across the room and almost hit our teacher. I am so excited to launch my rocket tomorrow. Anyway, thanks for coming to our classroom.

  18. John
    John says:

    Thanks for teaching us about rockets and the laws of physics. It was so cool when you made the glass go upside down without spilling!

  19. Emily T.
    Emily T. says:

    steve, you rock! I love the way you let people help you! the most cool thing was when you showed us that awesome film canaster thing!I like the way you are always doing funny things, like when you used Melissa as a mop! you are so cool! I cant wait for the launch tomarow! Emily!

  20. Ellen
    Ellen says:

    Making these rockets were totally AWESOME! I had so much fun doing this. It was a great learning experience for me and my class. By the way, using Melissa for a mop was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen!

  21. Annie
    Annie says:

    I thought making these rockets were the coolest idea!I want to brag to my little sister about how far my rocket went when she is in fourth grade.

  22. Olivia F.
    Olivia F. says:

    I had so much fun with you today. I think my rocket will do very well in the contest tomarrow. I showed my family your videos and they thought it was very interesting. It was funny when Jakes desk got wet and you picked up Melissa and wiped up the desk with her. Thank you so much!
    Olivia F.

  23. melissa F.
    melissa F. says:

    Dear Mr.Spangler,

    Thank you for all the excitement today. I loved it!It was actually pretty fun being a mop on Jakes desk. Ms.Culver
    never lets us get on a desk unless we are playing silent ball you know. Everybody in the class was laughing,even me! Ever heard of a laughing mop? I was one!

    I loved the Alka-setlzer tablet thing.That was also really cool and funny.

    You should be a comedian AND a scientist.
    The potatoes thing was really cool too. Behind your back Ms.Culver kept saying,”Talk about pressure.”It was cool learning about Isaac Newton’s 3 laws of physics. I never knew learning could be so fun. Thank you .

  24. Nick M
    Nick M says:

    Today Mr. Spangler taught us about Newton’s laws. It was really fun because he told us whenever there is an action, there is a reaction back. He picked me to prove a reaction by hitting me, and I hit him back harder. Thanks Mr. Spangler – bye! Nick M.

  25. Evan
    Evan says:

    Thank you sooo much MR.spangler ! It was interesting to learn about (wayn) Isac Newton’s laws. I also liked the film canister experiment. Once again thank you!

  26. Joe
    Joe says:

    Hi, I loved building my rocket. Tomorrow we launch them and I’m looking forward to that. Thanks for the great lesson on building rockets and the laws of Newton.

  27. Marc
    Marc says:

    Dear Mr. Spangler

    I had a “blast” today. It was very cool to see those Alka-Seltzer rockets, go BOOM!. Also it was nice of you to teach us about Newton’s three laws. Over all I had a great time.

  28. Claire K.
    Claire K. says:

    Dear Mr. Spangler,
    Thanks for coming to our classroom! It was really fun putting the alka-seltzer and water together to make the lid of the film canister fly off. It was funny when you used Melissa as a mop. Thanks for teaching us about the Newton’s Laws. It was really cool when you showed us the table cloth thing and the water tray thing (when you put the wine glasses on the tray and put them upside down without spilling). I hope my rocket does great tommorow! You totally ROCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  29. maggie
    maggie says:

    steve you rock!~!~!~! my mom denise works for you. I will try to wear a sss shirt tomorrow.Thank you so much for teaching my class notens three laws!~!~!

  30. morgan
    morgan says:

    wow!I had a great time learning about newtons laws of physics! they are confusing but fun!I still cant believe that we have to make a rocket!Do you expect our rockets to launch? i dont think so! Our film canaster went buzerk!Anyway, thanks for all the time and work to let us do all that fun stuff! Hi homer Hickam!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! MORGAN

  31. Noah S.
    Noah S. says:

    Dear Mr.Spangler,
    I had a great time I with you I hope you can come to my classroom agian.Thank you for your time. Ican’t wait to launch my rocket.

  32. jack v.
    jack v. says:

    steve spangler told us to build rockets. I dont know why we would need to do this but then i relized since my dad is a rocket engineer I knew what we were going to do. We’re going to put NASA out of business! i think this rocket contest should be best 3 out of 5 or 2 out of 3. But the only thing I can say is that thank mr. spangler and for the rest of the year when you did all the rest of the projects!

  33. Margaret
    Margaret says:

    Hi Steve
    You did so good today with us!
    I hope you come back soon.
    Thank you sooooo much for coming to Wilder.
    We get to launch our rockets tomorrow. Yahoo

  34. sloane
    sloane says:

    dear Mr.Spangler, today was a blast! I had so much fun. I loved working with the film canasters. It was so funny when you splatered Jake with the water and used Kylie as a human mop. I can’t wait for the lunches tommorow. Thanks so much for coming to our class.

  35. Allie S.
    Allie S. says:

    Today I had so much fun in class.Steve is so funny.When he spilled water on Jake’s desk he used Melissa to mop it up.Ithink my rocket will fly really well because he showed us how to make our rockets the best they can be.He told us about Newtons Laws and everything we need to know about gravity.I think the launch will be really fun to just see how far everyones rocket flies and how different each rocket is. Steve Spangler ROCKS!!! Thank you so much.By.

  36. Madison
    Madison says:

    Dear Mr. Spangler, I loved making the rockets today! I can’t wait until we launch them tomorrow! It was so funny when you got Jake’s desk wet and wiped the mess up with Melissa. I thought we would never stop laughing! YOU ROCK! Thank you so much!

  37. Nick
    Nick says:

    Thanks so much for coming! It was funny when you splattered Jake Hibben with water. It was also funny when you hit me and I hit you back. I am looking forward to the launch tommorow.

  38. Jake H
    Jake H says:

    Mr splangler you are terific. I liked how you almost hit our teacher with the patato lancher and I love how you got me wet. I liked how we built rockets. I can’t wate to lanch tommarrow. I hope my rocket does good. sea you tommarrow. the balloon experment. I also liked how you hit nick and he hit you back. Also I liked how you used kayle as a mop.Finily I saw the vido with ellen and you shoot ing the patato lancher. See you tommarrowsteve.

  39. Mrs. Boorom
    Mrs. Boorom says:

    Things are never dull when Steve Spangler is involved. We are hoping that the weather tomorrow will cooperate with our launch. I am hoping to see Mrs. Boorom’s student’s rockets traveling far and wide! After all, we did win the paper airplane flying contest! Steve did a great job of teaching important science concepts while engaging the students with hands on fun!

  40. senan
    senan says:

    Thank you for coming to our classes today.The funnest thing was you used Melissa as a mop!!! I have been working or my rocket all night. I hope our class launch will be cool and exciting. Can we do this again in 5th grade? If we do can we try exploding the whole film continer. Try it at home see what the results are? I tryed it. It makes a big POP!! But only try it at a friends house. It might be scary. SO thank you Steve Spangler. I got to go so bye.

  41. Jason S
    Jason S says:

    That was fantastic!It was fun when we used Alka-Seltzer+ and H20 and made the container blast off! That was a blast!

  42. Peyton
    Peyton says:

    Today I had so much fun when Mr. Steve Spangler came to our class. He taught us so many things. I really enjoyed learning about rockets. I also really enjoyed watching the movie October sky. It was about HOmer hickam who wanted to be a rocket scientist. I’m excited to launch our rockets tommarow. I’m very thankful Mr. spangler to come to my school. He’s very funny, too! I look forward to the launch tomarro.

  43. Kaylie B.
    Kaylie B. says:

    Dear Mr.Spangler,

    Thank you so much for coming in and teaching us about Newton’s laws of gravity. I liked my homework. I think my rocket will fly very far tommorow. I will have a”rockin” time tommorow.Thanks again!

  44. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Thank you for coming and helping us build rockets today. We had lots of fun and learned a lot about Newton’s laws of gravity. I can’t wait for the launch tomorrow.

  45. Lara
    Lara says:

    I cannot believe what I was hearing in class today. This is what I heard – “Children I want you to go home today and come back tomorrow with a rocket ready to fly”. I thought he was kidding, but it was true. My rocket is called the LUNA 10. Steve if you read this – thank you for coming to Wilder!! I cann’t wait to launch my rocket!

  46. Otto
    Otto says:

    Dear Mr.Spangler,
    I loved when you came to our class!
    I agree with Jake, that was hilarious when you shot the potato at Ryan! I hope you come again soon!

  47. Ryan
    Ryan says:

    When you almost hit ryan with the potato gun i was laughing so hard. I also liked when u flung the cup across the room. i thought it was going to brake. The rockets are really cool. I cant wait until I launch my rocket.

  48. Carlee
    Carlee says:

    i had such an amazing time today at wilder.We got to build rockets.Our homework was Improve your rocket.LOL I thought that it was very cool.We even launched potatos.It was hilariuos when you used Kaylie as a mop! Thank you very much for all the fun activities.Can`t wait to launch our rockets tomorrow.It will be a blast.LOL

    Thank you So So much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  49. Lauren P.
    Lauren P. says:

    Steve, thanks so much for coming in and teaching our class about rockets and gravity. I learned so much from it. Thanks again and I can’t wait for the rocket launch tomorrow.

    Lauren P.

  50. Megan M.
    Megan M. says:

    Dear Mr.Spngler,
    thank you very much. I liked all the things that I did today,I also liked when you used Melissa as a mop. It was so funny when that happend. I also liked when you taught us about Newton’s Laws. I also liked when you did when the film cans blew up. It was so funny when Miss.Culver did that table with all the glasses and with plates and in the glasses with water and for the other cups he put the potatoes on the plates and she actually made it, that the stuff wouldn’t fall off. I bet my class loved that when Miss.Culver did that and when Emily on her first try and she made the plate come off. It was so funny when you also spilt the water on Jake’s desk. Thank you so much for teaching me about all of those amazing things that you had done today. I just can’t what untill the blast off tomorrow.

  51. Ellen
    Ellen says:

    Yesterday we learned about Newton’s Laws and we got to create our own rockets. Today we will be launching them to see how well they were made. Yesterday I think was a incredible experience for me and my classmates. I hope Steve will come see us again soon.

  52. Patrick F.
    Patrick F. says:

    *… That’s all I can say to describe how much fun I had. Between some fun, hands-on demonstrations and learning (Isaac) Newton’s first three laws in fun, educational ways, I can’t wait for the rocket launch tomorrow‼

  53. matthew
    matthew says:

    dear mr spangler,
    thank you for teaching us about how rockets are built. i am really exited for lauching tommorw. i think it is neat how cintripicle force is used to help fly a rocket. And you were right i did have a lot of homework but i had a lot of fun doing it. I can’t wait to see who wins and why. I think this is a great experimant. See you tommorw. :.) :.)
    :.) :.) :.) :.0

  54. Davis
    Davis says:

    Dear Mr.Spangler,
    I loved using film canisters as rockets, it was a “BLAST”!
    I put a parachute on my rocket ,I hope that’s O.K. I’m sorry mine came in so late.

  55. Meriah
    Meriah says:

    we had such a fun time, and when i lanched my rocket the whole class chered and lots of people said that mine ws the best one, and i think that they were right, because i got 3rd place.

  56. ryan
    ryan says:

    when i launched my rocket i noticed that it was to big for the tube. my rocket had a tipped noise and 3 fins the rocket was a little to heavy. i noticed that flat nosed rockets went further than mine. i also put it at a wrong angle

  57. Jake H
    Jake H says:

    Today mr. splanger lanched our rockets.
    My rocket did not go far because I put to much weight at the top.I ame happy for all the top 12 people

    Thank you:steve. :0)

  58. keaton
    keaton says:

    Hi Mr.Spangler, today we had a awsome day! First, we got ready for our rocket shouting we built signs to cheer on the winners. We went outside and got ready to launch the rockets. We launched some kids rockets, then it was my turn. I put mine on the tube, and it fired off. Mine went flying off and went into 9th place! The winners Jessie, Kate, Meriah, went to the finnals and every body was cheering them on. The winner waS Meriah. My rocket turned out to be good, and i dont think i need to change anything anout it……. Thank you for comming!

  59. Ellen
    Ellen says:

    Today we launched our rockets. My rocket has a small blue nozzle. It also has 3 wings. 2 are big, and 1 is small. Also, my rocket is made of blue construction paper, molding clay, and tape. When I launched my rocket, it went about 30-45 feet. I thought that was pretty good. All I did was tape up my rocket, put wings and a nozzle on it, and I had my rocket! I could also say that it didn’t do well. That’s because most of the kids got a lot farther than me. That’s mostly because I put a lot of tape at the top. Tape weighs the rocket down. All in all, I think my rocket did really well.

  60. Jordan A.
    Jordan A. says:

    Today we launched rockets and it was a lot of fun. Mine did not do so well it only went about 2 feet but still I enjoyed watching the other kids succeed. We had some great accomplishments. The teachers really encouraged us and showed us the movie Octobtober Sky to encurige us even more.It was about a boy and his friends and they tried to build a rocket messed up and did that over and over until they succeeded. Thank You so much for helping us with the rockets and every thing else you do for us Mr. Spangaler.

  61. morgan
    morgan says:

    Today we got lanch our rockets we made our rockets yesterday. My rocket had 3 wings. the name of my rocket was called teddy! It was called teddy because I tied a teddy bear
    to my rocket. It only went ten feet tell the bear fell off the rocket. My rocket went about 20-30 feet, but I still enjoied watching other people lanch they’re rockets. If I would change anything I would take of the bearand not cut the wings. Thank you for helping us build and lanch the rockets!!

  62. Hendrix
    Hendrix says:

    My class at Willow Creek is going to be doing what you just did with the paper rockets. We haven’t watched the movie yet but we are reading the book. Hope it was a BLAST!!!

  63. Odie
    Odie says:

    Hi I’m a fifth grade student at Willow Creek and we are going to launch rockets later this year. We were inspired by Homer Hickam and are going to have a real blast 😉 Remember sometimes one dream is enough to light up the whole sky!

  64. hermiowne granger
    hermiowne granger says:

    Hi I’m from Willow Creek elementary and I’m reading October Sky too. i think that it’s a good story too. That’s really cool that you guys launched paper rockets. I think thats would be a really cool experience. i loved the creativeness of your rockets. Go rockets!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  65. matthew
    matthew says:

    dear odie,
    I am Matthew, I go to wilder elementary. I saw your blog.It was really good. i agree with what you said about “sometimes one dream is enough to light up the whole sky.” I hope your flight goes really well.
    A few tips that i think would help is to not have fins. if your teacher says that you have to have fins make sure that the fins are evenly that is if you have five fins. Now if it’s the case that you want to use four fins make them on the front,back,and the sides. Another tip is that when you put in the molding clay make sure that it is sealed tightly so that no air can get through.That is all i have to say. happy flying. !.) :.)

  66. matthew
    matthew says:

    dear Hermiowne Granger,
    Thankyou for bloging back to us. I hope when you launch your rocket it does alright.Some tips are…..
    1.do not have wings.
    2.if you have to have wings have three.
    3.make sure the nose cone is on tight


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