It’s Rocket Science!

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Canister Rockets title

 

This week I planned to do one of my favorite science activities with the boys in co-op—making film canister rockets. My kids love making them, and I love that it’s a super-fun, easy way to teach the basics of Newton’s three laws of motion in one shot. {And, well, it’s just cool to shoot homemade rockets off outside.}

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t willing to cooperate with an outside launch, and so, while I was able to make rockets with the boys, I only launched my sample one in the church basement so they could see how it worked and do it themselves at home once the Ohio weather decided to cooperate.

It was a bit disappointing for them, but they rallied well, especially since they were able to take home a baking-powder-loaded rocket of their own with which to cause mass destruction. {Sorry to all the moms of my co-op!}

Is the weather nice where you’re at right now? If so, give this activity a try. You need a few things that should be easy to find around your house:

  • Film Canister {This will probably be the toughest of all the materials to find now that everything is going digital, but ask at your local camera or drugstore. Most still get a few turned in here and there and are happy to give them to you for educational purposes. Otherwise you can purchase them through ebay or online science suppliers like stevespangler.com.}
  • Baking powder {or Alka-seltzer tablets, though these go a bit quicker}
  • Card stock
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Water
  • Safety goggles

 

Forming the body of the rocket

 

Now, help your child follow these easy steps:

  1. Tape a piece of cardstock to the edge of the film canister and roll it to make the body of the rocket. Then secure it along the entire side with tape.
    • Make sure that the open end is facing out.
    • Leave a few millimeters of film canister showing so it is easy to get the lid on and off without the cardstock interfering.
  2. Make 3-4 fins out of cardstock and tape those to the bottom of the rocket body.
  3. Cut out a cone from the remaining cardstock and tape this to the top of the rocket.
  4. Hooray! You have made a rocket!

 

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To launch the space craft, head outside to an open area, slip on your safety goggles, put a teaspoon of baking powder in the film canister, add some water, snap on the lid, give the rocket a little shake to get the reaction to start, then set it down and back up.

Let’s talk science now. How does this simple demonstration show all THREE of Newton’s laws?

Newton’s first law tells us that an object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion, unless something acts on it. This “unbalanced force” causes it to either move or stop moving {or change direction}. The unbalanced forced in this resting rocket is created when the gas builds up inside and pushes the lid of the film canister off.

Newton’s third law tells us that for every action {or force} there is an equal and opposite reaction. The force of the canister lid being pushed downward, causes the equal and opposite force of the rocket being pushed upward.

Newton’s second law tells us that the acceleration of an object is directly related to the magnitude and direction of the force and the mass of the object. In this case, the acceleration of the rocket is proportional to the force and speed of the water and gas being expelled from the canister.

If you’re ready to try this in your homeschool, feel free to use the FREE printable I created for my co-op kids. There are several questions for your kids to answer and some suggestions for how to turn this demonstration into an experiment. Simply click on the thumbnail below:

 

Film Canister Rockets

 

Have you enjoyed the printable activity sheets and experiments? I hope to continue to share them with you throughout the year as the kids and I play a bit more with science and keeping notebooks. Consider subscribing via email or RSS if you don’t already so you don’t miss any upcoming activities. If you really like them, pin them so your friends get a chance to check them out, too. And share your results with me on Twitter or Facebook. I’d love to hear how your kids enjoyed the activities.

Enjoy your week – and have fun with your kids.

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Colleen