Building rockets and launching them opens up the world of science to youngsters. Playing rocket games and constructing simple rockets allows students to become familiar with applying concepts of physics and mathematics to simple engineering projects. Children in grade school and middle school will be excited when they watch their rockets take off and will quickly master the triangulation math to see just whose rocket went the highest. Younger children can work together building water rockets, while older students can build simple model rockets.
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Computer Rocket Builder Games
Rocket building simulator games are very popular. Played online at NASA Kids Club (http://www.nasa.gov/audience/forkids/kidsclub/flash/index.html) and other websites or downloaded and played on the home computer, these games are fun for all ages. The simplest games teach shape recognition and some simple engineering ideas as the player assembles and launches his or her rocket. NASA has a Let's Go to Mars! Rocket mission game (http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/en/kids/mars_rocket.shtml) that is great for kids to learn about what it takes to do a space mission.
Water Rocket Building Contest
Building water rockets out of large plastic soda bottles is a good learning activity for children of all ages. (For more specific instructions, access the NASA Quest website at: http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/space/teachers/rockets/act11.html.) Students can build individual rockets or break into groups and work together to build several different-sized rockets.
Instruct the children to search for plans to build their rockets. Teachers will have a supply of building materials on hand for students to pick their building materials from. Set a time limit for construction and the fastest team to complete their rockets wins a prize.
Teachers can use this exercise to teach children about the X Prize foundation and their space craft building contest. Rocket building in the real world can be a game also, albeit a very serious one.
Bottle Rocket Races
After the students build their water rockets, it's time to have some races. Before the races begin, the students will construct simple altitude trackers to be used to determine whose rocket goes the farthest. Plans for these trackers are available on the NASA website (http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/space/teachers/rockets/act9.html) and are easily made by simply printing the tracker plan and calculator plan, and following the instructions on the page. The altitude tracker measures the degree of angle of the rocket's ascent to measure the altitude. Students will compete in teams. One team will launch their rockets as the other team measures the altitude reached by each rocket. The highest rocket wins.
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