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Rocket Science: Using Conservation of Energy to Predict Max Height

written by
Rebecca E. Vieyra
content provider:
Kim Penn and William Slaton

This AAPT lesson plan blends physics and engineering as students use thrust curves to explore impulse and predict the motion and maximum height of a model rocket. The lesson was inspired by an article in The Physics Teacher magazine, "Measuring Model Rocket Engine Thrust Curves", authored by Kim Penn and William Slaton. The lesson plan explains how to use a simplified test bracket and a force probe to record data, calculate impulse, and predict how high a model rocket will go. Teachers: The lesson calls for TARC-approved model rockets because they are designed to produce more consistent fuel burn and thrust, which will be essential for performing the calculations.

Rocket Science: Using Conservation of Energy to Predict Max Height by Rebecca Vieyra

Teacher's Guide: Rocket Science - Modifiable Word Version by Rebecca Vieyra
Printable Word version of the lesson plan with assessment. download 763kb .docx
Last Modified: October 8, 2016
Released under a CC Share Alike license.

Student Worksheet: Rocket Science by Rebecca Vieyra
Printable Student Guide for distribution in the classroom. download 528kb .docx
Published: June 1, 2016
Released under a CC Share Alike license.

Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions (HS-PS2)

Students who demonstrate understanding can: (9-12)

Analyze data to support the claim that Newton's second law of motion describes the mathematical relationship among the net force on a macroscopic object, its mass, and its acceleration. (HS-PS2-1)

Energy (HS-PS3)

Students who demonstrate understanding can: (9-12)

Design, build, and refine a device that works within given constraints to convert one form of energy into another form of energy. (HS-PS3-3)

Disciplinary Core Ideas (K-12)

Forces and Motion (PS2.A)

For any pair of interacting objects, the force exerted by the first object on the second object is equal in strength to the force that the second object exerts on the first, but in the opposite direction (Newton's third law). (6-8)

The motion of an object is determined by the sum of the forces acting on it; if the total force on the object is not zero, its motion will change. The greater the mass of the object, the greater the force needed to achieve the same change in motion. For any given object, a larger force causes a larger change in motion. (6-8)

Newton's second law accurately predicts changes in the motion of macroscopic objects. (9-12)

Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer (PS3.B)

Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can be transported from one place to another and transferred between systems. (9-12)

Mathematical expressions, which quantify how the stored energy in a system depends on its configuration (e.g. relative positions of charged particles, compression of a spring) and how kinetic energy depends on mass and speed, allow the concept of conservation of energy to be used to predict and describe system behavior. (9-12)

Relationship Between Energy and Forces (PS3.C)

When two objects interact, each one exerts a force on the other that can cause energy to be transferred to or from the object. (6-8)

Developing Possible Solutions (ETS1.B)

When evaluating solutions it is important to take into account a range of constraints including cost, safety, reliability and aesthetics and to consider social, cultural and environmental impacts. (9-12)

Both physical models and computers can be used in various ways to aid in the engineering design process. Computers are useful for a variety of purposes, such as running simulations to test different ways of solving a problem or to see which one is most efficient or economical; and in making a persuasive presentation to a client about how a given design will meet his or her needs. (9-12)

Crosscutting Concepts (K-12)

Cause and Effect (K-12)

Systems can be designed to cause a desired effect. (9-12)

Systems and System Models (K-12)

Models can be used to predict the behavior of a system, but these predictions have limited precision and reliability due to the assumptions and approximations inherent in models. (9-12)

Models (e.g., physical, mathematical, computer models) can be used to simulate systems and interactions—including energy, matter, and information flows—within and between systems at different scales. (9-12)

Energy and Matter (2-12)

Changes of energy and matter in a system can be described in terms of energy and matter flows into, out of, and within that system. (9-12)

Energy cannot be created or destroyed—it only moves between one place and another place, between objects and/or fields, or between systems. (9-12)

Stability and Change (2-12)

Change and rates of change can be quantified and modeled over very short or very long periods of time. Some system changes are irreversible. (9-12)

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (K-12)

Analyzing and Interpreting Data (K-12)

Analyzing data in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to introducing more detailed statistical analysis, the comparison of data sets for consistency, and the use of models to generate and analyze data. (9-12)

Analyze data using tools, technologies, and/or models (e.g., computational, mathematical) in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims or determine an optimal design solution. (9-12)

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions (K-12)

Constructing explanations and designing solutions in 9–12 builds on K–8 experiences and progresses to explanations and designs that are supported by multiple and independent student-generated sources of evidence consistent with scientific ideas, principles, and theories. (9-12)

Apply scientific ideas to solve a design problem, taking into account possible unanticipated effects. (9-12)

Developing and Using Models (K-12)

Modeling in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to using, synthesizing, and developing models to predict and show relationships among variables between systems and their components in the natural and designed worlds. (9-12)

Use a model based on evidence to illustrate the relationships between systems or between components of a system. (9-12)

Planning and Carrying Out Investigations (K-12)

Planning and carrying out investigations in 9-12 builds on K-8 experiences and progresses to include investigations that provide evidence for and test conceptual, mathematical, physical, and empirical models. (9-12)

Plan and conduct an investigation individually and collaboratively to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence, and in the design: decide on types, how much, and accuracy of data needed to produce reliable measurements and consider limitations on the precision of the data (e.g., number of trials, cost, risk, time), and refine the design accordingly. (9-12)

Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking (5-12)

Mathematical and computational thinking at the 9–12 level builds on K–8 and progresses to using algebraic thinking and analysis, a range of linear and nonlinear functions including trigonometric functions, exponentials and logarithms, and computational tools for statistical analysis to analyze, represent, and model data. Simple computational simulations are created and used based on mathematical models of basic assumptions. (9-12)

Use mathematical representations of phenomena or design solutions to describe and/or support claims and/or explanations. (9-12)

Use mathematical models and/or computer simulations to predict the effects of a design solution on systems and/or the interactions between systems. (9-12)

NGSS Nature of Science Standards (K-12)

Analyzing and Interpreting Data (K-12)

Analyzing data in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to introducing more detailed statistical analysis, the comparison of data sets for consistency, and the use of models to generate and analyze data. (9-12)

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions (K-12)

Constructing explanations and designing solutions in 9–12 builds on K–8 experiences and progresses to explanations and designs that are supported by multiple and independent student-generated sources of evidence consistent with scientific ideas, principles, and theories. (9-12)

Developing and Using Models (K-12)

Modeling in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to using, synthesizing, and developing models to predict and show relationships among variables between systems and their components in the natural and designed worlds. (9-12)

Planning and Carrying Out Investigations (K-12)

Planning and carrying out investigations in 9-12 builds on K-8 experiences and progresses to include investigations that provide evidence for and test conceptual, mathematical, physical, and empirical models. (9-12)

Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking (5-12)

Mathematical and computational thinking at the 9–12 level builds on K–8 and progresses to using algebraic thinking and analysis, a range of linear and nonlinear functions including trigonometric functions, exponentials and logarithms, and computational tools for statistical analysis to analyze, represent, and model data. Simple computational simulations are created and used based on mathematical models of basic assumptions. (9-12)

<a href="https://www.compadre.org/precollege/items/detail.cfm?ID=14157">Vieyra, Rebecca E.. "Rocket Science: Using Conservation of Energy to Predict Max Height." 2016.</a>

R. Vieyra, Rocket Science: Using Conservation of Energy to Predict Max Height, 2016, <https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14157&DocID=4521>.

Vieyra, R. (2016). Rocket Science: Using Conservation of Energy to Predict Max Height. Retrieved October 1, 2023, from https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14157&DocID=4521

Vieyra, Rebecca E.. "Rocket Science: Using Conservation of Energy to Predict Max Height." 2016. https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14157&DocID=4521 (accessed 1 October 2023).

Vieyra, Rebecca E.. Rocket Science: Using Conservation of Energy to Predict Max Height. 2016. 1 Oct. 2023 <https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14157&DocID=4521>.

@techreport{
Author = "Rebecca E. Vieyra",
Title = {Rocket Science: Using Conservation of Energy to Predict Max Height},
Month = {June},
Year = {2016}
}

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%0 Report %A Vieyra, Rebecca E. %D June 1, 2016 %T Rocket Science: Using Conservation of Energy to Predict Max Height %8 June 1, 2016 %U https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14157&DocID=4521

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