Student Projects

The December Sky Project

Author: Scott Stambach

Grade: 9th

Subject: Physics

The December Sky Project photo
The December Sky Project photo

December Sky combine the thrill of speed with the something that every young person dreams about—our future in the cosmos.

The December Sky Project is a PBL physics teacher’s dream project. It combines the thrill of speed and heat with the imagination around space exploration, all while teaching all the core physics content that can be explored through designing and building rockets. This includes aerodynamics, forces, momentum, Newton’s laws, and of course cosmology. In December Sky (a play on the famous model rocket movie October Sky) students design every detail of their own rockets from fin design to engine stages. They also research and define a purpose/function for their rocket based on the needs of modern space travel. These functions can range from anything from delivering probes for space mining, putting up satellites, or launching vessels for space tourism.

A high-powered rocket, which is launched and exhibited on Fiesta Island

Deeper hands on knowledge of kinematics, newton’s laws, gravity, and forces.

All of the of NGSS scientific practice standards are addressed over the course of this project.

Laser cutters, bass wood, nose cones, parachutes, Estes rocket engines.

This is a 6 week project. 1 week of introductory material, 4 weeks of design and construction, and 1 week of exhibition prep.

This project explores what the human race will need from space over the coming decades and centuries. This includes space tourism, asteroid mining, settling new planets, and pure exploration.

One of the greatest experiences about being a teacher in the High Tech High community is discovering projects that simultaneously satisfy the “teach to your passions” creed, and are complex, rich, rigorous, and thoroughly engaging. This project has it all: a ton of rigorous physics and cultural content, a heavy dose of craftsmanship, and the universal youthful dream of being an astronaut.
– Scott Stambach

We estimated how high the rocket is going to go by using the Conservation of Energy method. Once we finished the rockets, we launched them on Fiesta Island, which is the best part of the entire project, because you get to see what you created. —Nick

It was very fun, though it was a bit complicated. We needed to do every step correctly in order to make it function. —Cynthia

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