MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Balloon Rockets in 1D

Balloon Rockets in 1D

Mary Hoelscher, Academy for Sciences and Agriculture, Vadnais Heights, MN
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In this inquiry activity, students solve a 1D motion challenge in groups. Students build their own balloon rocket from the materials provided with little guidance from the instructor. They collect data and prepare a position vs. time graph of their data. They determine the average velocity of their rocket.

Learning Goals

This activity is designed to push students to use problem solving skills to create a rocket that will meet the requirements specified by the challenge. They will apply the concept of position, time, and velocity. Students will apply graphing skills without structured support.

Context for Use

This lab is designed to be used as a quick, fun assessment of students' understanding of velocity in one dimension. It is situated in the beginning of the course as an opportunity for team building. Due to its simplicity, it is an excellent start to open inquiry supported by a teacher.

Subject: Physics:Classical Mechanics:Motion in One Dimension
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity, Lab Activity
Grade Level: Middle (6-8), High School (9-12)

Description and Teaching Materials

Introduction: Pull out a full balloon that is hidden out of the view of the students and let it fly across the classroom.

Challenge: Build a balloon rocket using the materials provided that will race in only one dimension.

Materials: long, thin balloons; balloon pump; spools of string; markers; pencils; paper clips; tape; binder clips; stop watches; straws; scissors; measuring tools; and anything else a student group requests which the instructor may reasonably supply.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Permit students to work and problem solve in their own group. Limit guidance to only what is necessary to keep the students safe. Permit the students to make obvious mistakes so they will learn from them.

Some of the best rockets I've seen are strung on straws. Often students get a great rocket one try and then can't get the rocket's motion to be produced a second time. Thus, encouraging students to collect data for every trial may be fruitful for students who are receptive.


Rocket Description:
Describe your rocket design verbally or using a diagram.

1. Displacement.
2. Time.
3. Average velocity.
4. Graph of position vs. time.
5. Analysis of any errors you believe that may exist in your measurements.


9-12.I.B.3,4 - apply math and models
9-12.II.D - motion

References and Resources