rockets + observation = learning math ^fun


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From our interview with Ms. T-Z:

What were your goals going into the project?

The goal going into the project was to provide students with a chance to apply their knowledge of quadratic functions to a fun scenario beyond the walls of the classroom. A secondary goal is to give them the chance to “roll up their sleeves” and build something tangible from start to finish.

What did you do?

We start off by having students build the model rockets over a few class periods. There’s lots of measuring and scissors and glue involved, and in the end, the girls get to break out their extensive supply of markers to decorate their rockets with their own style! When we launch the rockets, the girls collect information about how high the rocket flew and how far away it landed from the launch pad. This information is then used to help determine a quadratic function that models the flight path of the rocket. Often, the reality of the rocket’s flight differs from what the algebra suggests, and we get to have a great debrief discussion about why that happens.

If you were to do the project again what (if anything) would you change?

Our urban environment provides some obstacles for this project. In an ideal world, we would have more space and time on launch day. It would be great to launch some rockets with different sized engines so the girls can get a better sense of just how high they can fly! It would also be nice to compare the parabolic motion of the rockets to other instances like hitting a baseball or shooting a basketball.

When you reflect on the project what are a couple of moments that really “jump out” at you?

The girls really love getting to build something. They have a great time putting the rocket together and decorating it to make it their own. There is also a lot of excitement around the launch itself. Lastly, the project circles back to so many ideas and skills that we address throughout the school year that it really ends the year on a positive note with many “Aha!” moments regarding the purpose behind the algebra concepts we have spent so much time studying.


Here is the worksheet that students worked through during the event - click for a PDF.

Here is the worksheet that students worked through during the event – click for a PDF.

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