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"Two-Liter Pop Bottle Rockets may well be the GREATEST PHYSICAL SCIENCE TEACHING TOOL EVER CREATED!!" The Secondary Science Education Department at the University of Nebraska hears this statement frequently from teachers. Bottle rockets can be used at the middle grades and high school levels to allow students to experience the nature of science at its best:

  • Middle grades students can manipulate and control variables, see their hypotheses verified or refuted, and graph their findings.

  • High school students can document their abilities with the following concepts: inertia, gravity, air resistance, Newton's laws of motion, acceleration, relationships between work and energy or impulse and momentum, projectile motion, freefall calculations, internal and external ballistics, and the practice of true engineering.

Designing, building and flying a bottle rocket provides students with a real-world application of the scientific method. Students must research a problem, propose an answer, test the answer, and analyze the data produced by the test to figure out if they have the answer or not. Math and science studies are necessary to complete the process . . . they are tools that an engineer uses to solve a problem. When students have the tools, then they can attack a problem--that's what engineers do!

These supplementary classroom materials have been developed for use with students in grades 5-8 and 9-12, as well as lifelong learners. They are aligned to the following National Standards:

National Standards (5-8)


Design and conduct a scientific investigation.
Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data.
Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence.
Think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations.
Demonstrate an understanding of properties and changes of properties in matter.
Demonstrate an understanding of motions and forces.
Demonstrate an understanding of transfer of energy.
Implement a proposed design.

Mathematics Extend an understanding of the concepts of perimeter, area, volume, angle measure, capacity, and weight and mass.
Technology Use content-specific tools, software, and simulations (e.g., Web tools) to support learning and research.

National Standards (9-12)


Design and conduct scientific investigations.
Use technology and mathematics to improve investigations and communications.
Formulate and revise scientific explanations and models using logic and evidence.
Demonstrate an understanding of the structure and properties of matter.
Demonstrate an understanding of motions and forces.
Demonstrate an understanding of the interactions of energy and matter.
Implement a proposed solution.

Select and apply technology tools for research, information analysis, problem-solving, and decision-making in content learning.

Assessments: Pre- and Post online quizzes are available to assess and compare the students' knowledge before starting and after completing the exercises. Pre-Assessment, Post-Assessment.


Water Rocket Lessons

Use the questions below to begin a discussion of the aeronautics of water rockets.

  1. Do I have to use water? Why can't I just use pressurized air?
  2. Is more water better?
  3. How can I modify the design of the rocket to increase the duration of the flight?
  4. What effect will the wind have on the way I launch the rocket?
  5. How will the wind affect the rocket after it is launched?
  6. How can I modify the design of the rocket to increase its chances of making a field goal or reaching a goal?

Your students' exploration will be guided by Rocket Research 101, 102, and 103. Additional materials for each lesson are given below as MS Word documents:

Rocket Research 101: (Covers the Laws of Motion, Thrust, and Acceleration)
Objective: Students will demonstrate an understanding of the effect of changes in amounts of air and water on the flight of the rocket.
Link to additional materials for Rocket Research 101. - (MS Word File)

Rocket Research 102: (Covers Stability, Center of Gravity)
Objective: Students will demonstrate an understanding of how to design a bottle rocket for flight stability.
Link to additional materials for Rocket Research 102. - (MS Word File)

Rocket Research 103: (Covers Drag)
Objective: Students will demonstrate an understanding of how to minimize the effect of drag on the performance of the rocket.
Link to additional materials for Rocket Research 103. - (MS Word File)

After completing the lessons and developing their "best" bottle rocket design using RocketModeler II, the students will be ready to "test" their design by building and launching an actual water bottle rocket. Instructions will lead them safely through the process.

Evaluation: Students will be evaluated via a comparison of their findings using the computer simulation with the bottle rocket's actual performance.

Additional Lesson Plans:

Design a challenge project that will allow students to experience designing a rocket to solve a particular problem or accomplish a stated goal using RocketModeler II. Then have the students test their design by building and launching a bottle rocket.

Please share lesson plans that you develop using RocketModeler II by completing the form found here. Follow these links to information on inquiry-based, problem-based, and project based learning. As you develop lesson plans, be sure to incorporate the 5 E's, a five-stage instructional model for inquiry-based learning.

Recommended Extension Activity:

NASA Student Involvement Program: Aerospace Technology Engineering Challenge - found at this Website


Additional Aerospace Activities


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Any comments, concerns, or questions should be addressed to:    

Developer: David Mazza    
Responsible NASA Official: Jo Ann Charleston    

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Editor: Tom Benson
NASA Official: Tom Benson
Last Updated: Jun 12 2014

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