Stomp rockets are great for STEM outreach events. Students construct rockets out of construction paper and then hypothesize which rocket will go the highest. Using mathematics the students can then work together to calculate the height of their final rocket flights. The provided lesson takes an approach to stomp rockets as a fun way to integrate trigonometry, statistics and other mathematical skills with the fun science outreach activity.
In addition to the lesson outline, this plan includes activity notes of required supplies, discussion on the mathematics included in the activity, guiding questions, and a list of additional resources to support the lesson.
- Triangle Geometry Introduction
- Build the Rocket
- Blast off! Calculations and Statistics
Triangle Geometry Introduction
I recommend introducing the mathematics PRIOR to bringing out any rocket supplies. Almost all students, from five to thirty of more years old, will not listen after you’ve let them start to build their rockets. To counter this we started with an introduction to triangles and these cool trigonometry functions and showed how we could use these functions to figure out parts of a triangle, given two pieces of information. For this activity we’ll be using observers to watch the rocket fly. The observers will record (1) the distance the angle from the observer to the top of the rocket’s flight and (2) the distance from the observer to the rocket launch pad. From there we can use trig to find the height. See attached worksheet, (pdf).
This discussion is also a good time to bring out the inclinometers, basically a protractor with a weighted string hanging from the center point. If you site along the straight part of the protractor you’ll have an angle as the weight moves to show how far your line of site has moved from the rocket to its top height. The worksheet has a nice picture from http://www.hobbizine.com demonstrating the inclinometer:
And click here! for a nice video by the Exploratorium explaining the rockets and the inclinometers.
Guiding question at this point: Does it matter that your eye isn’t at the same level as the rocket? How do we adjust this?
Build the Rocket
A full activity guide for creating the rocket can be found at the Exploratorium’s website: http://www.exploratorium.edu/afterschool/activities/index.php?activity=134
Blast off! Calculations and Statistics
After the rocket is built you’ll have fun shooting the rockets through the air but this is also a great time to engage in mathematical thinking. Collect the angles of observers, turn them into heights (accounting for the individual observers’ heights). Then as the students how we can take this collection of data to make the most reliable estimate for each individual rocket’s final height. Do we remove the outliers and then average? Do we just average?
- Rockets: construction paper, scissors, tape, individual decorations
- Rocket launcher: PVC pipe, PVC elbow connector, duct tape, water bottle
- Math tools: Protractor, string, washer or other weight, angle activity worksheet (.pdf)
Where’s the Math?
The level of student will determine the level of mathematics to be introduced. Possible topics include:
- Similar Triangles – the triangle between the observer and the rocket compared to the triangle on the protractor.
- Trigonometry – using the protractor to calculate height.
- Statistics – average all the students’ angles to better estimate one student’s rocket height.
A list of Guiding Questions
- Are there aspects of your rocket that help with your total height? How can we find these attributes?
- Does it matter that your eye isn’t at the same level as the rocket when you measure the angle of flight? How do we adjust for this in our calculations?
- Angle activity worksheet (.pdf) – from Kittitas Valley Math Circle.
- Exploratorium’s stomp rocket website: http://www.exploratorium.edu/afterschool/activities/index.php?activity=134
- Discussion of basic rocket stability, for fin placement. The link was shared by an undergraduate Math Circle supporter – Thank you Carolyn!