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Curiosity Launch - Student Activity

Matt Vonk, University of Wisconsin River Falls
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This activity is based on the Curiosity launch video and prompts students to make basic kinematic measurements and calculations based on the video, including elapsed time, displacement, starting velocity, average velocity, final velocity, and acceleration.

Learning Goals

Students will:

  • Observe video of a rocket launch
  • Practice measuring elapsed time
  • Practice making basic kinematic calculations

Context for Use

I use this activity after my students have been introduced to kinematics but have not had much chance to apply their knowledge. I think the video is a good vehicle for practicing these skills because (aside from the shaking camera) it is an interesting yet fairly simple real world application.

This activity takes about 20 minutes.

Description and Teaching Materials

Video files: Curiosity launch
Student video library - allows access to all videos for students, without links to instructor materials.

Here is a worksheet (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 1.1MB Aug25 14) to guide students through this activity.
Worksheet solutions (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 2.1MB Aug26 14)

This is a worksheet that is fairly scaffolded, but does not include any of the kinematic equations. An instructor may chose to provide less detailed instructions to encourage independent thinking and problem solving.

Teaching Notes and Tips

When we make videos in the lab, we work really hard to make it visually obvious when exactly the event starts. In this video, it is a little tougher to determine the exact start of the motion. In fact, it's quite probable that the acceleration ramps up over time and doesn't just spring forth with its final value. The real world is messy and I think that it's important for our students to see at least some of that messiness despite our best efforts to present them a simple sanitized view of reality. That said, the fact that there is some uncertainty at the beginning of the video by no means implies that we can know nothing about the subsequent motion of the rocket.


There are many other videos in the "How Fast is That?" series that would be great for assessing student proficiency at measuring displacement, elapsed time, and average velocity. See related videos.

References and Resources

Here is a link to the Hyperphysics page on rockets.

Here is the Real World Physics rocket page.