Investigation Sequence



Written by:

Bob Baker & Mike Jacobsma                 Date


Focus Questions

What is propulsion? What forces aid in the propulsion of objects through space?


Content: Earth, Physical, & Life

Propulsion is the drive or force that is exerted on an object.

Cross cutting concepts


Science Practice


Personal, Social, Technology, Nature of Science, History


Background information

Propulsion enables a rocket to be launched into the sky. Gravity, wind, and the amount of force all play a factor with the propulsion of an object.additionalinfo

Activity Sequence

1. Zoomers
2. Rollers
3. Top Fuel Dragstaz
4. Paper Airplanes
5. Balloon Rockets
6. Propellsion
7. Modifying Propellsion

Activity Descriptions

Activity 1
1 large button, 1 long piece of string
1. Ask students, what is propulsion? Challenge students to give examples.
2. Introduce "zoomers."
3. Cut large pieces of yarn or string.
4. Run the string through the outer holes of the button and tie a knot.
5. Stick your fingers through the loops formed by the ends of the string.
6. Whirl the disk between your hands to wind the string tight.
7. Pull the ends of the string and observe the button.
8. Ask students again, what is propulsion.
9. Have students give examples of propulsion.

10. Ask the students to compare the motion of the button to a wheel on a car. What are the similarities and differences?

Activity 2
Long strips of "Hot Wheels" track, marble, coin, spool
1. Introduce a marble. Challenge students to figure out ways that they might move the marble without using their hands. (blowing on the marble etc.)
2. In groups of 3 or 4, reintroduce the term "propulsion."
3. Introduce the hot wheels track and one of the other variables (coin, spool).
4. Ask the students how they could use all three variables from one end of the track to the other without using their hands.
5. Ask the students which variable worked the best and which was the least cooperative and why?
6. Ask the students to figure out what force propelled the variables down the track (gravity, angle of track, distance, height).
7. Have students manipulate the track and the variables, report the findings.
8. Have students compare this activity to a roller coaster. Challenge students to report similarities and differences.

Activity 3
Top Fuel Dragstaz
Large cardboard discs, pencil, paper punch, "party favor" plastic cars, yarn, paper clips
1. Introduce the plastic car. Ask students how they might move this object with pushing it.
2. In groups of 3 or 4, have students construct tops with a pencil, paper punch and a large cardboard disk.
3. Let the students briefly explore the characteristics of the top.
4. Give the students a piece of yarn and a plastic car.
5. Challenge students to use the top, paper clips, and the yarn in order to propel the car in any direction. (Students will tie the top to the car with the yarn and spin the top, which will pull the car toward the top.)
6. Ask the students to record their procedure.
7. Ask the students how this activity relates to propulsion.
8. How does activity compare to the way an automobile is driven forward and backward?

Activity 4
Paper Airplanes
Construction paper, masking tape, stopwatch, measuring tapes
1. Instructor throws a paper glider across the room. Instructor asks students why the glider flies and what serves as its "engine."
2. Explain to the students that paper airplanes are gliders rather than planes because they do not have engines.
3. Have students construct a paper glider.
4. Tell the students that they will have a contest to see which glider travels the farthest.
5. After completing activity, ask students how propulsion plays a factor in this activity.
6. Have students research real gliders (wind gliders, hang gliders). Compare their findings to the paper glider.

Activity 5
Paper Airplanes thrown at a target
Glider and target
1. Ask students what would happen if max force were used to throw a paper glider at a target.
2. Now have the students try and hit a target in the gym. See what students will throw the glider forcefully and what students will lob it at the target.
3. Ask students what would happen if the force that causes propulsion of the gliders were too great.
4. Compare this activity to throwing a baseball or spiking a volleyball. (Maximum throwing or spiking power decreases level of accuracy.

Activity 6
Balloon Rocket
Balloon, zip-loc bag, colored fishing line, straw, paper clips, 2 chairs
1. Instructor blows up a balloon and lets it fly around the room.
2. Introduce rocket propulsion.
3. Build balloon rocket launching line by placing two chairs 10 feet apart, tying one strand of colored fishing line.
4. Demonstrate building balloon rockets with straw, zip-loc bag ad paper clips.
5. Introduce rocket engine (balloon).
6. Have students place their rocket on the launching pad.
7. Students will fill their rocket engines with fuel (air) and place them into the rocket (bag).
8. Have the students launch their balloon rockets.
9. Ask students which force propels the balloon rocket down the line.
10. How does this compare to a real rocket?

Activity 7
Source-FOSS Science Module Variables Unit "Plane Sense" Gr.5-6
Fishing line, 2 chairs, tape, paper clips, rubber band strands, propeller, modified Popsicle stick, paper punch, straws.
1. Ask students to look at the variables and decide which variables, if any, would spin a propeller. Why?
2. Build the balloon rocket line as in activity 5.
3. Lay out the modified Popsicle stick, propeller, rubber band strands, paper punch, paper clips and 2 straws.
4. In groups of 3 or 4, tell the students that they have 10 minutes to build a glider that will propel itself across the line without using their hands.
5. Ask the students to record their procedure.
6. Ask the students how many different variations they came up with for their glider?
7. Ask what force propelled the gliders across the line?
8. Ask the students how this activity compared to the preceding activity.

Procedure: Start with very cold water, add antacid tablet(s) and seal the plastic container immediately, Wait for the water to warm to room temperature. Have safety glasses on when opening the jar. Be ready for a possible fountain. The author has not tried different amounts of water and tablets and has no suggestions on possible result variation.

Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes