In this lesson plan, children build and test rockets to explore how air moves objects. They begin by watching a video in which Curious George is preparing to blast off in a rocket. The children discuss different objects that are moved by air, and then watch a teacher-led demonstration of how to launch a homemade rocket. Next, they build their own rockets, and then test and evaluate how the rocket launches as they adjust its design. They conclude by discussing the most successful designs and the importance of testing. As children go through the activities, they will be using the following science and engineering skills: asking questions, making predictions, planning and conducting experiments, and testing and retesting.
- Understand that air power can be used to move objects.
- Understand that engineers build and test different designs to determine which works best.
Prep for Teachers
- Using the “Space Monkey Blast Off!” handout, build your own rocket to anticipate where and how children may need guidance. (see Supplies)
- Arrange to have assistant(s) who can help children assemble their rockets.
- Be sure you have straws of two different diameters. The wider straw should fit smoothly over the narrower one.
- Cut out one Curious George rocket for each child ahead of time.
- Space Monkey Blast Off! handouts, folded in half
- Straws (for each child: one wide, cut into thirds; one thinner straw, full length)
- Paper clips
1. Watch the video.
Before the children watch, ask them to notice what happens just before the launch of the rocket. What is special about the way the scientists count? You may want to preview vocabulary words such as ignition, orbit, rocket, and International Space Station. Then, play the video Curious George: Blast Off!
2. Introduce the activity.
- Tell children they’ll be building a rocket that is powered by air.
- Invite them to name other things that are also moved by air (e.g., kites, windmills, sailboats, leaves, flags, wind chimes).
- Ask for a volunteer to demonstrate how to launch the rocket, using one you’ve built ahead of time.
3. Build and launch rockets. [Note: Tell children to point their rockets away from people before launching.]
- Help children build their rockets, following the instructions on the handout (Steps 1 and 2).
- Ask children: What makes your rocket launch? What happens if you blow hard into the straw? What if you blow gently? How can you make your rocket go higher? (Angle it upwards.) How can you make the rocket go farther? (Launch it horizontally.)
- As the children work, circulate to watch, listen, and engage children in conversations. If a rocket isn’t launching, ask why that may be the case. To help fix the rocket, check that the straw’s flattened end is tightly sealed with tape so that no air escapes.
4. Test and evaluate.
- Have children change their rocket designs by adding a paper clip to the top of it (Step 3).
- Have them test the rocket with and without the paper clip.
- Ask: Which design flies the best? Why was testing important? What does testing help you discover about your rocket?
You may want to distribute additional copies of the “Space Monkey Blast Off!” handout for children to take home and do with their families.
Extend with Games
- Blast Off! is a game specifically designed for a classroom whiteboard. The game, which is also available in Spanish, models counting backwards. As the whole class plays, they can count down to zero. You may also want to invite individual children to play. For other Curious George whiteboard games, go to http://pbskids.org/curiousgeorge/busyday/teachers.html.
- Children may also enjoy the counting game Super Bouncy Blast Off.
Extend with Books
Encourage children to use these books as they continue to learn about rockets.
- Curious George and the Rocket by H. A. Rey (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2001). Curious George becomes the first space monkey!
- Roaring Rockets by Tony Mitten (Kingfisher, 2000). Join an animal crew as they launch into space.
- Rockets and Spaceships by Karen Wallace (DK, 2011). Photos and pictures explain the basics of space travel.