3, 2, 1 . . . Go for Launch!

By Jeremy Rinkel on May 14, 2012
  • Grades: 9–12

A few years ago, I began teaching the book October Sky by Homer Hickam. Being from a rural area, my students face similar challenges to the ones Homer faced growing up in Coalwood, West Virginia. Continue reading to see three activities I did with my students during and after reading the book October Sky.

 

Designing and Building Rockets

My students loved this unit. As we read the book and met various benchmarks I set, students began the process of building their own rocket from a kit. I purchased the rocket kit and engines from Belleville Hobby. I allowed them to paint their rockets and make them unique. My budget did not allow each student to have a rocket, but students worked in groups of three. We spent two class periods putting the rockets together and painting them. The students were motivated and excited as we read the book. They couldn’t wait for launch day.

 

Discussion Topics

The book discusses various topics that I feel are important to students. One is goal-setting. Another is having a dream and attempting to achieve it. Another thing I really like about the book is the amount of cross-curriculum teaching I can do with students. The book involves many math and science concepts. The book also covers important historical events, especially the Space Race. Below is a list of topics I discussed in class with the students:

  • American Politics in the 1950s and 1960s
  • Newton’s Third Law
  • Cape Canaveral
  • Famous Paperboys
  • Space Race
  • NASA
  • Black Lung Disease
  • 1950s Culture
  • Dangers of a Coal Mine
  • 1920s Culture
  • Vanguard Rocket
  • 1950s Literature
  • The Life of a Coal Miner

After discussing these topics, students chose one or suggested another to me and researched it to provide additional information to the class.

 

Launch Party

After we finished reading the book and students had met the goals I set for them, we scheduled a rocket launch day. I first gained approval from my administrator to launch the rockets. After that, I selected a site on the edge of our school's property and set things up. My students were so excited to see their rockets launch. Each group was assigned a job to do when they were not launching their rocket. Each rocket could be launched twice unless it sustained damage upon landing. (We lost a few!) Below is a list of jobs:

  • Taking Photos
  • Shooting Video
  • Recovering Rockets
  • Folding Parachutes
  • Preparing Rockets on Launch Pad

I felt this was one of the most successful units I have taught. Students were mostly engaged and they could relate to the book and the activities.

 

Is there a book you read or an activity you do with students that gets them motivated and excited in your classroom?

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