Rocketry Education

by Tom Sarradet NAR # 87577

SARG Youth Outreach Coordinator

Tom's Sport Rocketry Magazine article about model rocketry in school can be downloaded HERE

Tom's PowerPoint presentation given at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, WA on August 9, 2014 can be downloaded HERE

Model rocketry is the perfect teaching tool. It is loaded with science, technology, engineering, and math and on top of that it is fun! As a middle school teacher who teaches a 13 week course on model rocketry, I have developed a model rocketry program based on 4 years experience trying various materials and techniques. If you are an educator for a school or youth organization, contact me and I will be happy to help you with your model rocketry program.

Building Model Rockets with Students

The first thing to determine when developing a model rocketry program is how many students will take the course. If you are putting together a program for a cub scout den with ten scouts, the cost is pretty reasonable. Having 30 or more requires careful planning and an adequate budget. Let's examine some possibilities.

Educator Packs for Small Groups

Some of the rocket manufacturers put together bulk packs that is cheaper than buying individual kits. These packs usually come in increments of 6: 6, 12, and 24 packs. Online stores like Hobbylinc sells these packs. They are also available straight from the manufacturers:

Apogee Components

Estes Industries

Quest Aerospace

The kits are only one part of the cost. Each student will need one or more rocket motors. Luckily, there are bulk packs of these as well. AC Supply is a good source for rocket motor bulk packs. Quest Aerospace sells their motors as well. Shopping around using our Vendors Page can save you money. These bulk packs come with igniters and recovery wadding included.

Accommodating Bigger Groups

If you are talking about 100 plus students, the cost can skyrocket (no pun intended). One solution for large groups is an educational supply company called Pitsco. They sell a unique model Economy Rocket Pack that requires the students to make their own body tube using gummed paper. The fins are made of a dense cardboard stock that can be cut with a decent pair of scissors. The pack also includes the engines.

The Wildcat 20mm

To keep costs under control, I came up with a scratch kit using components from Quest Uncle Mike's Rocket Shack, and Pitsco. Based on the Paradigm design by Harry Stine, the model uses Quest's inexpensive 20 mm nose cone and body tube. The 18mm motor mount with engine block slides into the body tube without the need for centering rings. The cost of each kit comes out to $1.60 (as of 2010). In addition, the model uses Pitsco's easy to use fin material. In honor of our school's mascot, I've named my design the Wildcat 20mm Student Rocket. Download a Rocksim file of the Wildcat here.

Building Materials

You will also need the following items to build the model rockets:

  • Glue - My favorite glue is Weldbond. It has a quicker tack time that wood glue and works great with the Pitsco fin material. Pitsco sells a similar version called HD Bond II. Another handy glue to have is Insta-Flex CA glue. The flexible thin variety works great to fix loose and broken fins. I also like to use it to glue the engine block into the motor mount because it doesn't leave a mess inside the mount which will prevent the engine from being installed. You may also need plastic model cement if you are using one of the kits with plastic fins.
  • Mechanical Pencils - The students will have to make their fin positions and mechanical pencils make a more precise line than regular writing pencils. Stores like Staples have bulk packs available.
  • Rulers - Inexpensive wooden rulers work fine.
  • Clear Tape - Used to attach the streamers to the shock cords. It is can also used to attach the engine to the rocket.
  • Masking Tape - Used to friction fit the motor and sometimes to hold troublesome ignitors in place.
  • Scissors - For cutting out fin templates and shock cord holders. They are also used to cut the Pitsco fin material.
  • X-Acto Knives - If you are using kits with balsa fins, you may need these knives to cut the fins from their sheet.
  • Sandpaper - To sand balsa fins.

To Paint or Not to Paint

Many model rocket kits call for painting. A smooth paint job improves aerodynamics, rocket durability, and makes it look a lot better. But if you have a lot of students you may find that painting is too labor intensive and eats up a lot of time. So of the bulk pack models come with colored tubes and decals and do not need paint. Building the Wildcat 20 with the materials that I suggested will give you an all white rocket with a black nose cone. If you have the time and the students insist on personalizing their rockets, the glassine finished body tubes can be colored with permanent markers for a fraction of the cost of paint. Another good source for glassine covered body tubes is Semroc Astronautics. If you are not in the mood to cut the tubes to size, Semroc offers precut sizes.

Teacher Resources

A lot can be learned by building a model rocket. But the magic really happens when you fly them. From Newton's Laws of Motion, to aerodynamics, to Pythagorean's Theorem, flying rockets are chock full of great science and math lessons. It is a hands on approach, or the applied math and science if you will, that captures the students' attention in a way a classroom lesson never can. To get the full benefit of the lessons requires a teacher who is well versed in the subject. Lucky for you, there are loads of great resources available free of charge.

STEM-Based Model Rocketry Curriculum

For my master's project, I developed a STEM-based model rocketry curriculum that I use in my 13 week model rocketry class. It is designed to teach the skills required to compete in the Team America Rocketry Challenge. But it can also be used to teach an elective class in middle and high school, an extracurricular course, a model rocket club curriculum, a hands-on activity for a middle or high school science or math class, or in a summer camp program.

The TARC was analyzed and 28 skill sets were identified and lessons were developed to meet these skills. The skills and lessons were matched up to

  • 10 national middle/high school science standards
  • 38 California middle/high school science standards
  • 29 national middle/high school technology standards
  • 13 national middle/high school engineering standards
  • 59 national middle/high school math standards
  • 31 California middle/high school math standards

The lessons were grouped into four categories: Lecture and Demonstration, Design & Engineering, Construction, and Investigation & Discovery. This year I've added Team Missions to the course. The students are grouped into teams before the construction phase and each team is assigned an Investigation and Discovery Mission. While most students build their Wildcats with three clipped delta fins, some teams change the fin shapes or the number of fins in accordance to their assigned mission. The students conduct the missions by flying their rockets and the class assists them in collecting the required mission data. The teams analyze the data and report the findings to the class.

Curriculum Downloads


Team Missions

Air Rockets