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Rockets in Motion

If you roll a ball forward, it will keep rolling that way until it’s stopped by an obstacle (or slowed by air resistance and friction).

This is an example of Newton’s First Law of Motion: objects at rest stay at rest, and objects in motion stay in motion with the same speed and direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

Rockets are no exception to this rule. If we shoot a rocket into space, it will move in a straight line (and will keep on moving!) until an outside force stops it or changes its direction. 

In this game, students become rockets and move through space according to Newton’s first law of motion.

Objectives

  • Explore and demonstrate the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces.

Materials

  • Per Class:
    students
    a gym, large open room, or field with defined borders
    a watch or stopwatch
    a whistle or loud voice

Key Questions

  • What makes an object move?
  • What makes an object stop?
  • When an object is in motion, what would make it speed up or slow down?
  • If there were no walls or borders, how far would the rockets travel?
  • What kinds of obstacles and forces act on real rockets to change their motion?
  • How is the movement of objects different on earth than in space? For example, if you kick a ball, will it continue to roll forever in a straight line on Earth? In Space? What forces are acting on it?

What To Do

  1. Assign students to roles:

Rockets (The majority of the class):

  • Show they are rockets by touching their hands together straight out in front of them to create a rocket “nose”.
  • Move forward in a straight line, with one foot in front of the other.
  • Continue to move in a straight line until they run into an obstacle (another rocket or a wall/border). If a rocket hits an obstacle, they are “out” and sit down right where they are.
  • Can be stopped and turned by the “stopper”.
  • Remain stopped until they are started by a “starter”.
  • Can employ their “early warning system” (making beeping sounds) to indicate they are near an obstacle.

Stoppers (approximately 3 to 4 students depending on the size of the group):

  • Work together to keep the rockets safely away from obstacles.
  • Can stop a rocket by tagging their “nose cone” arms.
  • Re-direct rockets by holding the rocket’s shoulders and turning them to a safer trajectory.

Starters (1 student, or more, depending on the size of the group): 

  • Work against the rockets and stoppers, trying to keep the rockets in motion until they crash and are “out”.
  • Can tag rockets on the shoulder to start them, but can’t change their direction.
  1. The game begins with all of the rockets standing scattered throughout the area, pointing in various directions. The instructor blows a whistle to indicate that the “starter” can begin to run around and start rockets.
  2. Rockets move according to the forces determined by the starters and stoppers, sitting down when they are “out” and remaining out until the end of the game.
  3. The game ends after 3 minutes (or another defined amount of time), when the instructor blows a whistle and everyone stops. The number of rockets still in the game becomes the score for the stoppers.
  4. Start again with new stoppers and starters and see how many rockets can be kept in motion.