« Return to AACT homepage

AACT Member-Only Content

You have to be an AACT member to access this content, but good news: anyone can join!


Need Help?

Rocket Challenge (3 Favorites)

LAB in Chemical Change, Pressure, Conservation of Matter, Reaction Rate, Acid Base Reactions, Chemical Change. Last updated July 16, 2018.


Summary

In this lab, students will have the opportunity to construct a rocket, with the challenges of both designing it and preparing a chemical reaction for its “fuel” in order to propel the rocket the highest possible distance. Students will investigate available materials, quantities and ratios during allotted planning and testing phases. Student will record their plans, modifications and designs during the process. The lab will culminate with a competition among students to see whose rocket will travel the highest distance.

Grade Level

Elementary or middle school

NGSS Standards

  • MS-PS1-2: Analyze and interpret data on the properties of substances before and after the substances interact to determine if a chemical reaction has occurred.
  • 5-PS1-4: Conduct an investigation to determine whether the mixing of two or more substances results in new substances.
  • 4-PS3-4: Apply scientific ideas to design, test and refine a device that converts energy from one form to another.
  • MS-ETS1-2: Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well the meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  • MS-ETS1-1: Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success.
  • 3-5-ETS1-2: Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  • 3-5-ETS1-3: Plan and carry out fair tests to which the variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

Objectives

By the end of this lab, students should be able to

  • Understand indicators of a chemical reaction.
  • Recognize that the law of conservation of mass applies to all chemical reactions.
  • Understand that the quantity and ratio of reactants used in a reaction can impact the quantity and ratio of products produced in the reaction.
  • Identify that gas can be produced in a chemical reaction.
  • Realize that the particles in a gas have more space between them than the particles in a solid and a liquid.

Chemistry Topics

This lab supports students’ understanding of

  • Chemical Reactions
  • Indicators of Chemical Change
  • Law of Conservation of Matter
  • Gases
  • Science and Engineering Practices

Time

Teacher Preparation: 30 minutes

Lesson: 2-2.5 hours (possibly spread over two class meetings)

Materials

Per partner group

Lab rocketchallenge materialsMaterials to choose from during design process:

  • Alka-Seltzer tablets (plan for multiple per student)
  • water
  • Baking soda (several boxes)
  • Vinegar (several containers)
  • Ziploc baggies (several boxes)
  • Measuring devices (teaspoons, tablespoons, cups, graduated cylinders, etc.)
  • Construction Paper
  • Tape
  • Scissors

Safety

  • Always wear safety goggles when handling chemicals in the lab.
  • Students should wash their hands thoroughly before leaving the lab.
  • When students complete the lab, instruct them how to clean up their materials and dispose of any chemicals.
  • The launching of the rockets should be conducted outdoors, in a large space such as a field or park.

Teacher Notes

  • This works best with students in pairs. Allow students to choose their partner, or assign them.
  • There are two reactions for students to choose from, or students may decide to combine the reactions, or portions of each together:
    • A reaction of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and acetic acid (vinegar) produces carbon dioxide gas, water and sodium acetate (soluble in water). The carbon dioxide gas can originally be seen as bubbles in the solution, but will quickly be released from the solution. The amount of carbon dioxide gas produced will pop the lid off of the canister and propel the rocket through the air.
    • An Alka-Seltzer tablet contains aspirin, citric acid and sodium bicarbonate. When it is mixed with water, it will also produce carbon dioxide gas, and can originally be seen as bubbles in the solution, but will quickly be released from the solution. The amount of carbon dioxide gas produced will pop the lid off of the canister and propel the rocket through the air.
  • Also emphasize that students should consider the design of their rocket. Using construction paper to secure to the film canister could help the rocket to be more aerodynamic. Students should consider this during their planning as well. Some examples for construction are below (make sure to remind students that the lid of the canister needs to be at the bottom of the rocket):
Rocket sequence
  • To start, explain the challenge and walk the students through the student handout.
  • Next, begin the brainstorming session. This should be approximately 20-30 minutes. During the initial brainstorming session student should be given 1 or 2 film canisters (teacher’s choice – two will allow the groups to investigate more original ideas). Students should record their initial ideas for the contents of their rocket. Near the end of the session, allow students to collect their materials for a testing session outside (**It could be helpful for students to plan/conduct for more than one trial of their original idea). Encourage all students to participate in the first testing session, even if they aren’t certain about their original idea.
  • In order to launch the rocket, you must quickly add the fuel ingredients to the film canister and seal it will the lid. Place the canister on the ground, standing upright on its lid and wait for it to launch!
  • Allow for a second 20-30 minute brainstorming, rewriting/planning session. Students will work, alter their original plan etc. Make sure students are documenting their changes. If students have not considered their rocket design yet, encourage them to do so. Remind students that they will have one additional testing session before the final competition! Again, allow students to begin collecting their materials near the end of the session.
  • After the second testing session, students will need to create their final written procedures. Tell students that they must document all steps, quantities, as well as the rocket design elements that will be used for the competition. Teachers may want to have students submit these for review prior to the competition!
  • When ready (this may need to occur on a second day), all teams should collect, and measure their necessary materials according to their written final procedures.
  • During the competition teachers may want to let teams launch their rockets one by one, and compare distances traveled. Or, teachers may want to have students vote about the highest distance traveled by each rocket.
  • Differentiation
    • For younger students, or students who will be more successful with a written procedure teachers should try the Alka-Seltzer Rockets lab in the AACT resource library.

For the Student

Lesson

Background

In this lab your team will be responsible for designing a rocket as well as determining the best fuel combination to use in the rocket. The goal is to make your rocket travel the highest distance during the competition! The rocket will be propelled through the air by the pressure produced from carbon dioxide gas through a chemical reaction inside the rocket. Two common reactions that produce carbon dioxide gas are:

Baking Soda + Vinegar
and
Alka-Seltzer + Water

However, changing additional factors or combinations of reactants could also increase the amount of carbon dioxide produced. In addition to the fuel, the design of a rocket is important. Think about what types of features make objects travel through the air easily.

Objective

Design a rocket and its fuel in order to allow it to travel the longest distance in the air.

Materials

  • Rocket: film canister with lid
  • Possible fuel sources
    • Alka-Seltzer tablets
    • Water
    • Baking soda
    • Vinegar
  • Design Tools
    • Construction Paper
    • Tape
    • Scissors
  • Other
    • Measuring devices (teaspoons, tablespoons, cups, graduated cylinders)
    • Ziploc baggies

Safety

  • Always wear safety goggles when handling chemicals in the lab.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before leaving the lab.
  • Follow the teacher’s instructions for clean-up of materials.
  • The launching of the rockets should be conducted outdoors, in a large space such as a field or park.

Procedure

  1. Brainstorming session #1

    a. Begin discussing the rocket design and rocket fuel with your team. Record all of your ideas in the data table below.
    b. When complete, begin collecting your materials (You can collect materials to test your idea more than once if you want). Measure any fuel needed into plastic Ziploc bags. DO NOT combine fuel in the film canister (rocket) until your teacher gives you permission, and you are outdoors.
    c. If time permits, also construct the rocket design, recording measurements in the data table below. Use tape, paper and scissors provided.

  2. Testing session #2

    a. You will have the opportunity to test your original rocket design. Record the outcomes, as well as positive and negative remarks, notes for changes, etc. in the data table below.
    b. In order to launch the rocket, you must quickly add the fuel ingredients to the film canister and seal it will the lid. Place the canister on the ground, standing upright on its lid and wait for it to launch!

  3. Brainstorming session #2

    a. Discuss the original rocket design and rocket fuel with your team. What changes need to be made? Record all of your ideas in the data table below for improving the rocket.
    b. When complete, begin collecting your materials (You can collect materials to test your idea more than once if you want). Measure any fuel needed into plastic Ziploc bags. DO NOT combine fuel in the film canister (rocket) until your teacher gives you permission, and you are outdoors.
    c. If time permits, also construct the rocket design, recording measurements in the data table below. Use tape, paper and scissors provided.

  4. Testing session #2

    a. You will have the opportunity to test your improved rocket design. Record the outcomes, as well as positive and negative remarks, notes for changes, etc. in the data table below.
    b. In order to launch the rocket, you must quickly add the fuel ingredients to the film canister and seal it will the lid. Place the canister on the ground, standing upright on its lid and wait for it to launch!

  5. Final planning & documenting

    1. Now, based on your testing, you will create a final written procedure, detailing how to build your team’s rocket for the competition. Make certain to document all steps, quantities, as well as the rocket ship design elements that will be used for the competition.
    2. When complete, begin collecting your needed materials. Measure fuel components into Ziploc bags.
    3. Construct the final design for the rocket, also recording measurements in the final procedure. Use tape, paper and scissors provided.

  6. Competition

    1. You will compete against the other teams in your class to see whose rocket will travel the farthest! Good luck!
Brainstorming Session #1
Testing Session #1
Brainstorming Session #2
Testing #2
Final Procedure
Data

Analysis

  1. Did your rocket continuously travel a further distance after each test, and during the competition? Why or why not?




  2. In your opinion what was the more important part of designing the rocket’s fuel?




  3. In your opinion what was the more important part of constructing the rocket’s design (size and shape)? Do you think this affected the success of the rocket?