Study of Projectile Motion using Straw Rockets


Carrie Weber

Columbia Preparatory School, Manhattan

Summer Research Program for Science Teachers

August 2008





·         study motion through student inquiry and independent investigation

·         investigate how the launch angle of a projectile affects the distance traveled

·         consider the forces on a projectile and how they might affect the flight

·         practice problem solving skills using kinematics equations




1-D kinematics

intro to 2-D motion

vector addition





[enough for each student to make 2 rockets]

Pitsco Straw Rocket Launcher

Pitsco Precision Straws (or regular straws!!)

index cards

molding clay






ACT I: design  [day 1 after introduction and discussion]

·         show students how the launcher works

·         distribute materials and ask each student to design their own rocket

[give NO instruction here on design options]

·         let them launch a few times just to get it out of their system!!


ACT II: launch angle  [day 2]

·         divide students into small groups – each group has own launcher

·         ask students to launch their rockets at varying angles from 10° to 80°

·         each student should record (approximately – no need for precision measurements yet) the distance their rocket traveled at each angle

·         ask them to get together as a group and predict what angle is going to result in the furthest distance traveled

·         get the students to discuss WHY (using physics!!!) they think 45° produces the greatest distance


ACT III: redesign  [day 3]

·         talk about what they noticed in their groups about which rocket went the furthest

·         brainstorm about the forces encountered (and discuss) during the flight

·         ask each student to design another rocket for the distance competition


ACT IV: distance competition  [day 4]

·         allow each student to launch (@45°) their redesigned rocket

·         each student must carefully measure the total horizontal distance traveled

·         and of course – they should just goof around and have fun

because who doesn’t love playing with rockets?!!




calculate the initial velocity of the straw using known values you know:     

launch angle

vertical acceleration

                        horizontal acceleration

                        vertical displacement

                        horizontal displacement




TEACHING STANDARD A          plan an inquiry based science program

TEACHING STANDARD B          guide and facilitate learning – interact with students, support inquiries, orchestrate discussion, encourage participation and curiosity

TEACHING STANDARD D          design/manage a learning environment to provide time and resources for learning science – prolonged investigations & use of outside resources

TEACHING STANDARD E          develop a community of science learners that reflects the rigor of scientific inquiry – facilitate ongoing discussions regarding scientific discourse

CONTENT STANDARD A            scientific inquiry

CONTENT STANDARD B            physical science

CONTENT STANDARD E            science & technology / technological design