How To Design A Rocket: A STEM Workshop For Primary Schools

Overview: In this workshop, the students will learn about the scientific principles behind rockets and how they work. They will then take part in a series of practical trials where they will investigate how changes in the design of a rocket impacts its performance. Finally, they will use this information to design their own rocket to reach a target set a specific distance away. Duration: Between one and one and a half hours.

Intended Learning Outcome: This workshop will introduce children to the theoretical and practical elements of engineering, and the importance that ‘trial and error’ learning plays both in design, and in many other aspects of real life. This will effectively teach them how to ‘think like an engineer’ when it comes to solving any problems they may encounter.

STEM Areas Covered: This workshop will primarily cover engineering and technical design, but ‘trial and error’ learning is a critical element of almost all STEM subjects. In addition, it will demonstrate how to use graphs to compare results of such learning. It will also cover the scientific principles of thrust, acceleration and Newtonian physics.

What Does This Workshop Involve? This workshop is based around low velocity air-powered rockets made from plastic drinks bottles. Such rockets are very safe for children to operate, under adult supervision, and similar rockets are freely available to purchase as children’s toys. After a short introduction to the scientific principles behind rockets and how they work, there will be a demonstration of how to make an air-powered rocket from a plastic drinks bottle, and launch it using a foot pump (this will propel the rocket approximately ten metres through the air). After this demonstration, the children will be introduced to the concept of ‘trial and error’ learning and its importance in engineering and design (and, indeed, everyday problem-solving).

At this point, the children will be divided into groups of four and, under close supervision, they will get to select and launch different designs of rocket (based on different shapes and sizes of plastic drinks bottles) to see the impact it has on how far they travel. The results of these trials will be plotted on graphs to allow comparisons to be made. The children will also be asked to think about other factors that can influence how far a rocket will fly (such as the launch angle) and how they can test the impacts of varying these factors. At this point, they will be brought back together as a class to discuss what they have discovered from their trials and what characteristics of its design will influence how far a rocket will travel. They will then be challenged to take their newly acquired knowledge and use it to design a rocket that will land as close as possible to a target placed a specific distance away. This will allow them to implement the findings of the ‘trial and error’ learning phase in their design.

Finally, if weather and space permits, they will be shown a demonstration of the impact of changing the ‘fuel’ that powers the rocket from air alone, to a mixture of air and water. This has a spectacular impact, more than doubling the distance the rocket will travel, that will be long-remembered by the children.

What Type Of Space Is Required For This Workshop? This workshop has been designed to primarily be carried out in a typical school gym. However, weather-permitting, it can also be carried out in a playground, on playing fields or any other suitable open space. The final demonstration of the effect of changing the ‘fuel’ from air to a mixture of air and water must be conducted outside (since the rocket in this demonstration can travel up to fifty metres), and will only be carried out if space and weather permits.

How Long Will This Workshop Last? This workshop will last between one and one and a half hours, and can be adapted to fit available time slots. Our preferred time to run this workshop is between mid-morning and lunchtime as this gives children time to settle into the school day, but they are still alert enough to listen to instructions and make the most of the experience.

Is This Workshop Safe? This workshop is as safe as any practical workshop can be. The air-powered rockets are low velocity and are very safe to use. Even if a child is hit by one of these rockets, it would do no more damage than being hit by an empty drinks bottle thrown by another child. However, the children will be given specific safety instructions which will be strictly enforced to minimise the chances of anyone being hit by a rocket. Safety goggles will also be provided for the children to use while launching the rockets. A class teacher is required to be present at all times to ensure discipline is maintained throughout and to deal with any violations of safety instructions.

What Equipment Is Required? Other than providing a suitable space to carry out this workshop, there is no need to provide any additional equipment, and all materials can be supplied by us.

What Age Of Children Can Participate In This Workshop? This workshop is designed for children in P5 to P7, but younger children can be accommodated on request.

How Many Children Can Be Accommodated? This workshop is designed to be carried out with a maximum of thirty two children (divided into eight groups of four) at any one time. However, this upper limit is flexible, and the workshop can be repeated several times in succession to accommodate a greater number of children from the same school.

How Much Will This Workshop Cost? This workshop costs £200 for up to thirty-two children (which would equate to a cost of £6.25 per child). If the workshop is repeated on the same day to accommodate more children, each additional repeat would cost an additional £50.

Who Will Run The Workshop? The workshop will be run by Dr Colin D. MacLeod. He has worked as a research scientist for over twenty years, as well as working as an educationalist, lecturer and street entertainer. He is a strong advocate of introducing children to the scientific method, critical thinking, ‘trial and error’ learning and STEM subjects as early as possible in their education. He is also the founder of How To Raise A Happy Genius, and an author of books for both adults and children (published under the pseudonym Colin M. Drysdale). He is also PVG-registered and has an up-to-date PVG certificate.

How Can I Book This Workshop? This workshop can be booked by emailing This email address can also be used to request further information, ask questions or discuss any special requirements. Please use the subject line Rocket Workshop Enquiry in any such emails to help us identify them and respond as quickly as possible.