Type and Purpose of Learning

In this play based science lesson, a myriad of aspects of play are at play! Children are practicing Science and Technology Learning as they recount prior knowledge and facts about rockets. They’re practicing Creative Learning, Construction Learning and Adventure Play-Based Learning as they use their imagination and their building skills to create rockets.

Who could have known that grade six science could be so much fun? At the moment, grade six students are engaged in aspects of play as they design and build their own rockets. All children are thoroughly engaged in the project (even those with diagnosed focusing difficulties) and all show genuine interest in making this rocket the best it can be. Social skills such as listening, giving positive feedback and taking turns are being actively used!

One group is figuring out the best design possible. Students are conversing, sharing and reflecting as they analyze the process. “Do you think this is the best way to do this?” “Why don’t we try turning it over and putting it on the back, is that a good idea?” Collaboration during creative and construction learning is so crucial and can be seen in this lesson. As they build, students listen to and respect each other. They comment as they work, “This is awesome, science is so fun” and “I think this is definitely something I would want to do when I finish university!”

Lesson Plan

Instructional Focus

Students will focus their learning about flight in a culmination activity – building a rocket.

Learning Goals

Flight occurs when the characteristics of structures take advantage of certain properties of air.

Overall Expectations:

  1. Investigate ways in which flying devices make use of properties of air.
  2. Investigate ways in which properties of air can be applied to the principles of flight and flying devices.

Assessment/Reflections for Future Lessons

Assessment can be done anecdotally as students build (assessment as learning, assessment for learning). As well, the rockets themselves can be evaluated based on following the procedure and whether they launch correctly (assessment of learning). Success criteria can be developed with the students for collaborative group work as well as the building of the rocket.

Other assessment tools:

  • Rubrics (see attached sample) are created based on the co-constructed success criteria.
  • Anecdotal notes can be written on all students while preliminary discussions are happening (assessment for learning), working on the rockets (assessment as learning) and of the final “blast off.”

Curriculum Expectations

Science and Technology

(Ref: Ontario Ministry of Education. The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8: Science and Technology, 2007)

  • Follow established safety procedures for using tools and materials and operating flying devices;
  • Use scientific inquiry/experimentation skills (see p.12) to investigate the properties of air;
  • Use technological problem-solving skills (see p.16) to design, build and test a flying device;
  • Use appropriate science and technology vocabulary, including aerodynamics, compress, flight, glide, propel, drag, thrust and lift in oral and written communication;
  • Identify the properties of air that make flight possible.
  • Teacher shows a Youtube video of home-built rockets. (Make sure that you preview the video prior to showing it to students.)
  • Start a dialogue about rockets. Show a diagram of a rocket from NASA’s website:

http://exploration.grc.nasa.gove/eudcation.rocket/rockpart.html and discuss rocket parts

Teacher-Directed Lesson

1. Ensure you have:

  1. A rocket kit (available at any hobby store) – use level 1 or 2. An Estes rocket is a good brand. (Estes was used for the purpose of this lesson.)
  2. A rocket motor of the correct size for item #1(a).
  3. A safe place to fly.
  4. A launch pad.
  5. An electrical launch system to fire the rocket motor.
  6. Any necessary extra materials needed for the building of the rocket (sandpaper, carpenter’s glue, paint).

2. Show an example of a completed rocket (if available or if you are able to make one in advance.)

Discuss mechanics of rockets and the forces of flight: lift, weight, drag, thrust.

Discuss Newton’s three laws of motion:

  1. If a body is at rest, it remains at rest. If it is in motion, it moves with uniform velocity until it is acted on by a resultant force.
  2. Force is equal to mass times acceleration.
  3. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

For example: Consider the flying motion of birds. A bird flies by using its wings. The wings of a bird push air downwards. Since forces result from mutual interactions, the air must also be pushing the bird upwards. The size of the force on the air equals the size of the force on the bird; the direction of the force on the air (downwards) is opposite to the direction of the force on the bird (upwards). For every action, there is an equal (in size) and opposite (in direction) reaction. Action-reaction force pairs make it possible for birds to fly.

3. Ask the students how the Newton’s three laws of motion will apply to rockets. Brainstorm various ideas as a group and discuss.

Note: When a rocket is lifting off from the launch pad, it is because the thrust exceeds the force that is keeping the rocket in place (the weight of the rocket and Earth’s gravity are the forces keeping the rocket in place). The thrust of the rocket engine is greater than the weight of the rocket and that pushes the rocket away from the launch pad. This reflects Newton’s First Law of Motion which states that an object at rest will stay at rest as long as no unbalanced force is applied. When the rocket is launched, there are two forces activating on it. One is the weight of the rocket and the gravitational pull to Earth as a result. The second is thrust, the force that moves the rocket. The reaction and exhaust created by rocket fuel propels the rocket in the opposite direction- into space.

Student Tasks

Students are placed into their groups of four by the teacher. The decision is based on personalities, relationships, individual strengths and needs and knowledge of work habits. Desks are placed into groups to facilitate positive climate while working together.

As a whole class, reflect on and discuss the following:

  1. Open the kits (one per group) and discuss all the parts, ensuring that the students have all the necessary parts.
  2. Students discuss various types of rockets and look at non-fiction books given to groups. As the teacher discusses the types of rockets, she records student input on the white board. A rich and meaningful brainstorming session ensues. Student investigative skills translate into conversation: “So you mean that if the spacecraft has more weight on its front it will make a difference to how high it flies?” “Oh, now I get it!” “Can we start now?” “This sounds fun!” “I love building!” “This is science?”
  3. Discussions take place surrounding constructive feedback and how to communicate with group members.
  4. Students build the rockets following the procedure in the instruction booklet.
  5. In their groups, students design and construct their rockets keeping in mind the functionality and the purpose of their particular spacecraft. They verify instructions, theorize and test the results. The teacher records conversations overheard in groups.
  6. Find a safe spot outside to launch the rockets.

The custodian is made available when the rockets are being set off. The students stand at least 10 metres away from the rockets behind the baseball diamond fencing to ensure safety.

The consolidation happens as the rockets are set off on the playground. Students are proud of their accomplishments, beaming from ear to ear as they see their rockets take off.

Share and Connect

Sharing in groups happens as the rockets are being built. The launching of the rockets can be done with a class or classes from the primary grades (book buddies) or another class. Students can present their findings to another class after the rockets launch:

  1. Whose rocket went the farthest? Why?
  2. What are the factors involved in a rocket flying? How is it different than a bird flying?


Assign a scribe in each group if there is writing involved. The group nominates a reader to read the instructions.

Please refer to any individual student’s IEP for formalized accommodations and/or modifications to the particular expectations. Other accommodations may include:

  • repeating of instructions;
  • peer help;
  • clear instructions;
  • explicit teaching once lesson is finished, one-on-one;
  • frequent check-ins;
  • modelling the procedure in front of class; and
  • clear example of finished product.

This play based learning task is inherently differentiated in its setup and delivery. Further differentiation is based on accommodations and/or modifications to the curricular expectations as outlined in specific IEPs.

Impact Quotes

The rich and meaningful discussions involved construction as students established and shared prior learning. One student said, “This one is really interesting, look how the rocket is shaped, I wonder if that has something to do with the fact that…” and another; “I never knew that there are different types and styles of rockets….”yet another student said, “Wow, rockets are real, I never imagined that they actually look like this!” The students identified their play with reality and the results were astronomical!

Students loved the freedom they were given and shared that they were learning even though they did not feel they were learning. It was “awesome” and “so much fun.” They “felt like scientists!” “If this is what engineers do, I’m being an engineer!” The students viewed themselves as the centre of their learning and felt they had control over what they did versus being told what to do. They were empowered by the freedom of choice and the creative liberties allowed during the unit. The classroom teacher observed the children learning independently, talking about the process of creation and collaborating.

Research Quotes

  • According to Rea and Watson, serious fun is play with a purpose (2000). In this purposeful play, students experience playful challenges while the teacher acts as a guide on the side, meeting the basic needs of their students, and helping the students to stay on task.

Rea, D., Millican, K.P., and Watson, S. W. (2000). The serious benefits of fun in the classroom. The Middle School Journal. 31 (4), 23-28.


Rockets: Anecdotal Notes

Rockets: Rubric for Collaboration and Group Work

Rockets: Rubric for Final Script

Rockets: Rubric for Final Presentation


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