3M Science at Home: Build a Paper Rocket experiment

Build a Paper Rocket

How does changing a rocket change the way it flies?

Key Concepts

  • Engineering Design icon.
    Engineering Design
  • Variables icon.

  • Introduction

    An important part of science and engineering is testing your ideas. A “variable” is any part of your experiment that you can change and see what happens to the outcome after you make that change. A good science experiment only changes one variable at a time. Building a paper rocket is a great way to see how variables in both design and applied science can change your experiment’s outcome. 

  • Background

    In this experiment, you will be making a rocket that you can propel with air. There are lots of different ways people have propelled rockets throughout history, but the most common is a chemical reaction that produces an explosion that can be directed. The first rockets that used gunpowder as propellent were invented in China in the late 12th century, so this idea has been around for a while! 

  • Preparation

    • Fold one of your pieces of paper into fourths
    • Cut along the lines so you have 4 smaller rectangles
    • Take one of the rectangles and roll it around the straw (not too tight)
    • Tape the tube you have made so it stays rolled up
    • Pinch and tape one end of the tube to make the nose of the rocket
    • With a different piece of paper, cut some right triangles to make fins
    • Repeat the rocket making steps, make some rockets with different tube lengths, or different numbers of fins. 
  • Procedure

    1. Make a prediction: What combination of tube length and number of fins will allow your rocket to fly the farthest? What effect do the fins have on your rocket’s stability?
    2. Place one of your rockets on the straw and blow to launch it. Observe how it flies.
    3. Try your other rockets, or try changing something about the rocket you just launched. Remember, only change one thing at a time so you can be sure of your results!
  • Observations and Results

    When you are experimenting, you may realize that some changes make a bigger difference than others. Once you have an idea of what changes are the most important, try designing a rocket that can go the farthest, or fly the most accurately. 

    • What would happen if you made the rocket longer? How about shorter? 
    • How about more fins? Less fins? 
    • What if you added more weight to certain areas of your rocket? 
  • Clean Up

    Be sure to clean up when you are done. Recycle or throw away the paper, make sure to put everything else you used back where it belongs. 

  • More to Explore

    Could you scale this up to make a bigger rocket? How would you launch a paper rocket made of a whole sheet of paper? Could you add something else to your rockets to test? 

  • Safety First & Adult Supervision

    • Follow the experiment’s instructions carefully.
    • A responsible adult should assist with each experiment.
    • While science experiments at home are exciting ways to learn about science hands-on, please note that some may require participants to take extra safety precautions and/or make a mess.
    • Adults should handle or assist with potentially harmful materials or sharp objects.
    • Adult should review each experiment and determine what the appropriate age is for the student’s participation in each activity before conducting any experiment.

Next Generation Science Standard (NGSS) Supported - Disciplinary Core Ideas

This experiment was selected for Science at Home because it teaches NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas, which have broad importance within or across multiple science or engineering disciplines.

Learn more about how this experiment is based in NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas.

Disciplinary Core Ideas in Engineering Design

Engineering Design (ETS)1: Engineering Design

Grades K-2

  • K-2-ETS1-1. A situation that people want to change or create can be approached as a problem to be solved though engineering. Such problems may have many acceptable solutions.
  • K-2-ETS1-1. Asking questions, making observations, and gathering information are helpful in thinking about problems.
  • K-2-ETS1-1. Before beginning to design a solution, it is important to clearly understand the problem.

Grades 3-5

  • 3-5-ETS1-1. Possible solutions to a problem are limited by available materials and resources (constraints). The success of a designed solution is determined by considering the desired features of a solution (criteria). Different proposals for solution can be compared on the basis of how well each one meets the specified criteria for success or how well each takes the constraints into account.

Grades 6-8

  • MS-ETS1-1. The more precisely a design task’s criteria and constraints can be defined, the more likely it is that the designed solution will be successful. Specification of constraints includes consideration of scientific principles and other relevant knowledge that is likely to limit possible solutions.

Grades 9-12

  • HS-ETS1-1. Criteria and constraints also include satisfying any requirements set by society, such as taking issues of risk mitigation into account, and they should be qualified to the extent possible and stated in such a sway that one can tell if a given design meets them.

Grades K-2

  • K-2-ETS1-2. Designs can be conveyed through sketches, drawings, or physical models. These representations are useful in communicating ideas for a problem’s solutions to other people.

Grades 3-5

  • 3-5-ETS1-2. Research on a problem should be carried out before beginning to design a solution. Testing a solution involves investigating how well it performs under a range of likely conditions.
  • 3-5-ETS1-3. Tests are often designed to identify failure points or difficulties, which suggest the elements of the design that need to be improved.
  • 3-5-ETS1-2. At whatever stage, communicating with peers about proposed solutions is an important part of the design process, and shared ideas can lead to improved designs.

Grades 6-8

  • MS-ETS1-4. A solution needs to be tested, and then modified on the basis of the test results, in order to improve it.
  • MS-ETS1-2. There are systematic processes for evaluating solutions with respect to how well they meet criteria and address constraints of a problem.
  • MS-ETS1-3. Sometimes parts of different solutions can be combined to create a solution that is better than any of its predecessors.
  • MS-ETS1-4. Models of all kinds are important for testing solutions.

Grades 9-12

  • HS-ETS1-3. When evaluating solutions, it is important to take into account a range of constraints including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics and to consider social, cultural, and environmental impacts.
  • HS-ETS1-4. Physical models can be used in various ways to aid in the engineering design process.

Grades K-2

  • K-2-ETS1-3. Because there is always more than one possible solution to a problem, it is useful to compare and test designs.

Grades 3-5

  • 3-5-ETS1-3. Different solutions need to be tested in order to determine which of them best solves the problem, given the criteria and the constraints.

Grades 6-8

  • MS-ETS1-3. Although one design may not perform the best across all tests, identifying the characteristics of the design that performed the best in each test can provide useful information for the redesign process – that is, some of the characteristics may be incorporated into the new design.
  • MS-ETS1-4. The iterative process of testing the most promising solutions and modifying what is proposed on the basis of the test results leads to greater refinement and ultimately to an optimal solution.

Grades 9-12

  • HS-ETS1-2. Criteria may need to be broken down into simpler ones that can be approached systematically, and decisions about the priority of certain criteria over others may be needed.
Disciplinary Core Ideas in Physical Science

Physical Science (PS)2: Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions

Grades K-2

  • K-PS2-1. Pushes and pulls can have different strengths and directions.
  • K-PS2-2. Pushing or pulling on an object can change the speed or direction of its motion and can start or stop it.

Grades 3-5

  • 3-PS2-1. Each force acts on one particular object and has both strength and direction. An object typically at rest has multiple forces acting on it., but they add to give zero net force on the object. Forces that do not sum to zero can cause changes in the object’s speed or direction of motion.
  • 3-PS2-2. The patterns of an object’s motion in various situations can be observed and measured; when that past motion exhibits a regular patter, future motion can be predicted from it.

Grades K-2

  • K-PS2-1. When objects touch or collide, they push on one another and can change motion.

Grades 3-5

  • 3-PS2-1. Objects in contact exert forces on each other.
  • 5-PS2-1. The gravitational force of Earth acting on an object near the Earth’s surface pulls that object toward the planet’s center.

Grades 6-8

  • MS-PS2-4. Gravitational forces are always attractive. There is a gravitational force between any two masses, but it is very small except when one or both of the objects have a large mass.
  • MS-PS2-5. Forces that act at a distance (electric, magnetic, and gravitational) can be explained by fields that extend through space and can be mapped by their effect on a test object.

Grades K-2

  • K-PS2-1. A bigger push or pull makes things go faster.