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How does a parachute’s design affect the speed of descent and landing location of a model rocket?

Sensemaking Checklist

What is Sensemaking?

Sensemaking is actively trying to figure out how the world works (science) or how to design solutions to problems (engineering). Students do science and engineering through the science and engineering practices. Engaging in these practices necessitates that students be part of a learning community to be able to share ideas, evaluate competing ideas, give and receive critique, and reach consensus. Whether this community of learners is made up of classmates or family members, students and adults build and refine science and engineering knowledge together.

Lesson Snapshot

Middle school students, as scientists and engineers, investigate forces and motion to answer the following driving question: How does a parachute’s design affect the speed of descent and landing location of a model rocket? Students conduct tests and collect data to determine the effect a spill hole has on the time it takes for a parachute to land. Students share models and compare models with those of classmates to explain the full launch sequence of a model rocket in preparation for planning a safe launch in the next lesson.

Click the Download PDF button above for the complete Lesson Plan.


Student Materials

Per Student

  • Parachute Testing Guide
  • Safety Goggles
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Plastic Grocery Bag
  • Ruler
  • String/Dental Floss
  • Toothpick
  • Marker/Highlighter or Small Toy

Per Group

  • Stopwatch
  • Meter Sticks
  • Plastic Grocery Bag

Teacher Materials

  • None

Optional Teacher Resources

Scientific American—Parachutes with Holes

Model Rocket Safety Storyline Unit

This lesson is one of seven lessons in the Model Rocket Safety Storyline Unit. Storylines start with an anchoring phenomenon that raises questions or introduces a problem. Each step in a storyline unit is then driven by students’ questions that arise from the phenomenon.

In this case, the anchoring phenomena are successful and unsuccessful model rocket flights. The first day of the unit allows students to consider what they do and don't know about model rockets and what they want to find out. This gives them a reason to investigate the science ideas that explain model rocket launches, flight, and landings. In doing so, they will make sense of Disciplinary Core Ideas related to physics, chemistry, and engineering

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