Ed 350 - Rafael Villa

Education 350 – Teaching and Learning

Lesson Plan 3 – Blast off!

By Rafael Villa – 4/30/2019

On April 30th 2019, Gisselle and I co-facilitated our last workshop at the J-Z AMP after school program at the Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy. The program is intended to focus on STEM and is primarily students in the 8th grade. The students are also paired with Trinity students as their mentors. However, students usually spend their time there receiving homework help and playing games, like UNO. The program has no set curriculum, so Gisselle and I had to bring our own organic ideas to the space. There was about 8 students on the day of our workshop. We decided to take the students outside instead of the usual windowless classroom. The grass field the lesson took place it is behind the school. There were also other students and sports teams outside as well. The weather was very nice. We decided to have the lesson be more hands on and dynamic than previous workshops. The workshop was a maker-space exercise in which students had a box of supplies to make a product. This in addition, to a changed setting, was intended to bring students in. We had the students work on rockets outdoors. Our lesson focused on building the optimal design of a Hydro powered rocket and what this looks like.

Learning Objectives

  1. Students will design and construct a Hydro powered bottle rockets to demonstrate critical thinking of design choices. Specifically fins and nose cones
  2. Students will compare and contrast different design choices to demonstrate analytical thinking about material choices and relationships. Fin material in relation to the bottle or what material to use for the nose cone.


Taken from the following NextGenScience Standards

  1. ETS1.C: Optimizing the Design Solution – Although one design may not perform the best across all tests, identifying the characteristics of the design that performed the best in each test can provide useful information for the redesign process—that is, some of those characteristics may be incorporated into the new design. (MS-ETS1-3)
  2. Structure and Function – Structures can be designed to serve particular functions by taking into account properties of different materials, and how materials can be shaped and used. (MS-PS1-3)


Learning Activities

We began the activity by telling the students we were going outside because we were going to build rockets. Once outside, we pointed out the box of materials, which just looked like a box of recyclables. Before the students had the chance to challenge this, I told them not to be skeptical and that it was going to work. I needed them to trust the process. We then split the students in two groups, one with me and one with Gisselle. My group had three students. Each group had the following materials available to them:

  • Cardboard
  • A 2 liter bottle
  • Duct tape
  • Water
  • Card-stock
  • Cork
  • Construction paper
  • Scissors

We also brought our own rocket and pump, which we hid from the students till the very end of the workshop. We used a procedure from online as a guide for building the rocket. However it was not a strict guide as I let the students decisions dictate the way the rocket came out, only bringing them back if something was so far gone it could possibly not work. The procedure was more so for us as facilitators to have knowledge of how the building process should look like. Here is the link. (How to Build a Bottle Rocket, Wikihow.com).

The students did not know we had our rocket in the other box. We had planned to show it to them but decided against it because we did not want to inspire them too much. After splitting up into groups, I began by giving the students incentive. I told them that the rocket we made had to fly higher than Gisselle’s group rocket. I then asked students what they figured the first step would be to create a rocket. Some students suggested the bottle was enough to launch the rocket, solely pumping it with air would be enough. This was quickly shut down by another student saying it would just pop. And to be honest, I don’t know if this would have worked or not or if it would have popped, but this small dialogue exchange was a great opener to asking the students what would make the rocket go up then? So I asked the students ” What then would make this rocket go up?”

Gisselle and I drew diagrams of rockets prior to the exercise with a list of variables for students to consider about the rocket’s design. However, due to the wind we did not use them.

This was the diagram we made. It consisted of questions relating to the learning objectives. One student did catch a glimpse of the diagram and pointed out that water was necessary in order to have the rocket lift off. I asked him to explain and he said the pressure will make it explode and the water will give it a burst. I then transitioned this comment by asking if it was possible to somehow control where the rocket went after it launched. “is it possible to control how high and where the rocket goes?” I asked. With this statement, I was alluding to the nose cone and fins.

To the students, it was obvious that they should use cardboard for the fins. However the shape and size and number were still at question. I encouraged the students to discuss this among each other, first starting with the nose cone

“What material should we use for the nose cone?”

One student wanted to use the card-stock, but the other students argued it was too hard to be a cone. They instead used the copy paper. Likewise for the fins, the decided to make them small and towards the center of the rocket. The students also covered the entire body of the rocket in duct tape to make it look more realistic. As a facilitator, I was essentially leading this process and discussion so students felt confident about their rocket. My group was finished with the rocket before Gisselle’s group, so , although not planned, I asked the students what they though the appropriate amount of water would be in order for the rocket to reach maximum height. According to this web-page on NASA, the appropriate amount is about 1/3 of the bottle filled with water to achieve maximum height (Flight of a Water Rocket, NASA.gov). One student said about a fourth because that is what showed on our big diagram. I then told them the diagram is not to scale and they would need a better reason than that. The students decided a fourth was optimal because it had less weight but would have enough pressure for a quick burst up, which they concluded would make it go higher. The students were close to the recommended water amount. We worked on the rockets for about 25-30 minutes before both groups were finished up.

After finishing up the rockets, I used the put and cork to connect the rocket. Students then launched the rockets themselves. Because the rockets were not self standing, I have to hold them in place. I tried to allude to a self standing rocket in the building process by saying things like ” Should the rocket be able to stand on it’s own?”, but the students did not find fins near the bottom of the bottle to be useful. After the launch we used the camera to record the students and ask for their reflection on the experience. Below are the videos from the workshop.

The video shows the students in my group blasting their rocket, which went higher than Gisselle’s group. So the students were in fact successful engineers.

During the last five mintues, we brought students together to talk about possible changes they would make to improve their design, as well as other reflection questions.

The video shows great dialogue from the students talking about possible changes to number and size of fins and well as the material used for their cones. Each group made a different rocket and their rockets were also different than the onez we made. What’s more, the students in my group had theories as to why our rocket flew higher than the Gisselle’s group. I asked the students “What about the fins?… his fins are really big and ours are really small. Do you think that made a difference.?” To which the student being recorded said “It probably adds more weight to it.” This particular student had been adamant throughout the workshop about making the rocket very lightweight in order for it to launch high. This same student also points out that water can contribute to the height achieved by the rocket by minimizing the amount put in the bottle.  After reflecting on this, we showed students our rocket and launched it to see if it went as high as the students. It didn’t because of the damage from launching it the night before so the students felt proud their rockets went higher than ours.


The topic was one students had no prior knowledge of, bringing them on an even playing field. In prior workshops, students who felt more comfortable with math took the lead. However, in this workshop students felt equally skeptical at the idea of launching a rocket made from a 2 liter bottle. This, in addition to the small group sizes facilitated by Gisselle and I led to more opportunity for each student to voice their ideas.  It can be noted that activities like these are stereotypical male activities. However, by design all students involved had new exposure to the material.  I would say this activity did challenge equity in this regard. However, there was one boy in my group who did most of the talking, and although the other two students did not necessarily agree with his ideas, they kept their ideas to themselves. They let him run the project essentially. This dynamic was out of my control as these students had prior to the workshop established this relation among each other, however it is still an issue of equity nonetheless. Something else that is interesting is that students who were not so engaged in the beginning of the workshop became engaged during the launching time. They also contributed ideas and reflections about the design of the rockets. This turn over of engagement shows a level of equity in that students felt they could become engaged even when they were not previously. Overall I think this workshop did challenge equity issues and brought the best out of some students I have not heard from before.


The product is a form of assessment directly connected to the design portion of the objective. Students thought critically about each decision in relation to the nosecone and fins and more. The students physically constructing the rocket showed consciousness of material choice, shape of fins and nose cone and number of fins. In other words, they were able to make their though process into a concrete product. They were successful at building and launching a rocket, and even explained afterwards their ideas as to how it could be improved and limitations of their design.

We also assessed students via their interaction with us and with each other. The responses I received from students showed they had a an understanding and could explain their reasoning for their decisions. Furthermore, the way they backed up their ideas to each other, or lack of defense, showed the strength of their arguments and their thinking behind their decisions. This ties in directly to the learning objectives in that students were defending their choices for optimal fin and nose cone design. They were also using reasoning a lot during their explanations of how pressure and weight would affect the flight of the rocket. These are skills outlined in the math and science standards. Overall, their dialogue showed me that they were learning and encouraging each other to learn as well.


The level of engagement was significantly higher in this lesson than previous lessons. Although not all students felt like sharing ideas or even listening, there were students that did give 100% of their attention and seemed to enjoy the activity in general. Something good that also happened was that students who were disengaged became engaged towards the end of the workshop. There were two boys who left my group in the beginning to go play fight and did not want any part of the workshop, yet when we began to launch the rockets they were so ready to join. They even had things to say during the reflection portion of the exercise. This workshop overall made me happy because it seemed like students wanted to be there and were having fun. This was also very unexpected, as previous workshops saw little engagement.

Something else I did not expect was the grass outside to be so muddy. I originally wanted to sit in the grass and work with the students. However we had to stand. This was not so bad however, because it seemed like the students were okay with standing and just being outdoors. I also did not expect the field to be populated with other students, so I did my best to keep the students away from the other students and on the exercise. However, the workshop brought their attention for the most part so that was not a big concern.

Students learned about how to build a hydro powered rocket and negotiate ideas concerning its design. They learned, or at least thought about critically, about ways to use materials to optimize the rockets performance. This was apparent in their discussion with each other and with me. The rocket they made also flew rather high which shows they were able to successful apply their ideas like real engineers. I would say the students overall exceed expectations and met the objectives. The assessment section and video show more depth to this.

Something that is worth noting is the diagram we planned to use prior to the workshop. Due to the weather outside, it was hard to use the diagram with the students. However, reflecting on this I wonder how much of a difference a diagram would have made. I mentioned earlier that one student caught a glimpse of the diagram and it completely influenced their perception of what they thought the amount of water should be in the rocket. Perhaps if I were to redesign a diagram for students to use as it a guide it would be more vague; only having the essential question on it and a very basic picture. This could be useful as a space for students to draw their ideas like a real engineer. It is a limitation that my workshop included no creation of any sort of blueprint. Perhaps including this element in the future could also encourage students that are not so comfortable verbalizing their ideas to show them in this way.

I also want to make mention of the group of students I worked with. I wonder if decreasing the size of the group to two students per group would have affected the project. Having students work in pairs would encourage more student ideas to surface than working in larger groups. It was easy for some of the students to blend in the background and avoid doing work. with just two students per group it because more individualized in this way. In addition, having a partner makes it easy to have a discussion versus having a discussion with multiple other students, which can be daunting to some students.

When students were confused, they would not speak. Students would also look to me when thinking about how to do something to the rocket as if I was going to give them a solution. Fortunately, they did figure out I was not there to just tell them how to make it and they persevered through the construction of the rocket. They also showed some thinking via their responses to reflection questions at the end of the workshop. Their answers varied and caught me off guard at times by their complete creativity. Like scientist, the students were able to back up why they thought something would work or did not work and that was great to see.

I can only go up from here. I think my biggest issue to work on is just pacing with the students. I believe the context has a role in this, in that I only saw my students 4 times so I did not get to know them super well. However, I feel if I mastered a solid pace by judging where students are, they would feel much more easily engaged. In addition, I sometimes speak to fast or ask questions that don’t leave enough room for a varied response. Next time, I can take a breathe and think about what I am about to ask in order to maximize student responses. I also think I can improve by having back up plans. What I mean is this time I was lucky to have water as a back up variable in case students breezed through the fins and nose cones, which they did. So just making sure I am ready for unpredictable understanding from students will make my future workshops stronger.

Overall, I’d say I have grown a lot since the last workshop. Part of this is getting to know the students better but also in part of the activity choice. I realized what would get the students to want to be involved, and that was hands on activities that deviated from the usual classroom setting. I think that skill in itself, reading the students, is something I lacked in the very beginning when I made an activity that I thought would be interesting. This time I knew the students would find this activity interesting. I have also grown in regards to how to facilitate a group of students. For instance, during the workshop I was better at pushing students without making it feel forced or being too obvious. I alluded to a general concept instead of directly telling students what to do. An example of this is when I noticed the students realized that water would get the rocket to lift off, to which I responded “well how can you control what direction the rocket goes?”. I also focused more on students who were involved than those who were not, which made the workshop run a lot smoother, especially since the disengaged students returned towards the end. I recognize that I still have a lot of room to grow, but I am proud of the progress I have made and the workshop that I co-facilitated with Gisselle.


  1. wikiHow. “How to Build a Bottle Rocket.” WikiHow, WikiHow, 18 Apr. 2019, www.wikihow.com/Build-a-Bottle-Rocket.
  2. MS.Engineering Design | Next Generation Science Standards, Apr. 2014, www.nextgenscience.org/topic-arrangement/msengineering-design.
  3. “Flight of a Water Rocket.” NASA, NASA, 12 June 2014, www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/K-12/rocket/rktbflght.html.

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