Originally, I had originally only planned on spending one week on rockets and some of the astronaut missions, but it quickly became a more in-depth/enriched astronomy unit than I had intended. I did not know much about rocketry to begin with so I turned to our trusty science spine for some background information.
We began by looking/reading pages 30-35 in our First Space Encyclopedia. It’s a very quick overview that is perfect for young elementary aged children. Not too much detail, loads of pictures, and just enough information to pique their curiosity.
Then I found a wonderful documentary on Netflix (update: no longer available on Netflix, but can be purchased on Amazon and maybe it’s at your library) titled When We Left Earth: the NASA Missions. Our entire family spent a few days watching the first 3 (out of 6) episodes that detail the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions. The first episode details how the first astronauts were selected and what was learned during the Mercury missions, from the first manned space flight lasting only 5 minutes. The second episode chronicles the Gemini missions when NASA sends up more than one man at a time into space and tries to nail down the protocol for having an astronaut perform a spacewalk. The third episode focuses on the Apollo missions as NASA scrambles to meet the 10-year goal of putting a man on the moon.
Before watching this documentary, I am sad to say, I had no idea what was the difference between those 3 programs. I knew that an Apollo mission had put a man on the moon and I knew that we had first sent up a chimp, but that was the extent of my knowledge. The documentary was riveting, even for someone that thought the space race couldn’t be that interesting. Now everything makes so much more sense, the innovation that was needed is astounding, and it’s just amazing how brave those first astronauts were.
NASA Lesson Plans:
I also found some teacher plans in the NASA website for constructing our own water rocket. We are reading through some of the material and simplifying some bits where I can since the material is geared towards middle-high school students. Yesterday we tried playing around with their RocketModeler II simulator (you can change the size and shape of the rocket, add a payload, change the amount of fuel, simulate takeoffs with or without wind, and play around with a bunch of other variables), but we couldn’t get it to work quite right. I plan on tinkering with it again today so that I can have it all set up for my daughter. Otherwise we will just use the Bottle Rocket Sim which is a simpler version geared towards younger students. Next week I hope to have our launch pad built (the most difficult part of this whole project) and we will watch another episode of the documentary and launch some rockets!