Students at Pella Jefferson Intermediate School in Pella, Iowa took part in a water rocket launch during a study on the idea of forces affecting motion. The rocket launch that the 5th grade students participated in was an exercise adopted from an experience their teachers had at Marshall Space Flight Center, as a part of the ISGC Partner Schools Program. Josh Steenhoek and Jill Payne, who teach 5th grade in Pella, built water rockets and tested them while they were at MSFC, although with varied results.
“None of our rockets performed close to what the students are doing today,” Steenhoek said. “Over the years we have adapted the curriculum and found that it is the perfect STEM culminating event.”
As part of an additional science unit that takes place four days a week during the school day, students worked in the area of physics, asking questions and running investigations to test their hypotheses. In the spring, those studies transitioned to paper rockets which were much cheaper and easier to build.
“Additionally, we had some cross over time in math where students worked on ratio, rates, proportion, and probability,” Steenhoek said. “This time was not only a new area of math, but it also crossed over into our scaling up thinking for science.”
During the month of May, the students were presented with an engineering challenge: design a rocket to travel as far as possible. The students who had science expertise merged with those who were out of the room for extension or support during this time. Their science understanding was shared, lingering ideas were tested, and designs were explored. Finally, the students scaled up their idea from paper rockets into a water rocket that was launched.
Despite facing a stiff wind, student’s from different 5th grade classes in Pella launched their water rockets in May, and then charted the results into box and whisker plots.