Physics Students Collaborate on Rocket Launch

AP Physics students launch rockets on athletic field.
De Smet Jesuit Communications

Velocity, strategy, and teamwork dominated the upper athletic field this week; but there were no lacrosse sticks, Frisbees, or soccer balls in sight. Students in Mr. Feld’s AP Physics class launched rockets to practice formulas, test calculations, collaborate with classmates outside…and just enjoy physics.

“This is the first time I’m trying this,” said physics instructor Joe Feld. “The boys are excited to be outside, and we’re just going to have some fun.”

Students began the experiment by launching a rocket straight up into the air, timing how long before it hit the ground, then using that measurement to calculate launch speed in a formula. Trigonometric functions of sine and cosine helped students then calculate how far the rocket would travel when launched at an angle. “We’re trying to find the displacement of the rocket before actually launching it,” explained one junior.

Once their projected distances were calculated on dry erase boards, students used a measuring wheel to track their estimates, leaving one team member at this mark. Back at the starting point, another team member launched the rocket, then all watched to see how close—or far—they were from their calculated distance.

“They’re figuring out their mistakes,” observed Mr. Feld. Students started off confident with their measurements, then when rockets landed short of expectations, they checked calculations, tweaked adjustments, and re-measured distances. Equipment consistency and air resistance remained variables out of their control, but if teamwork, collaborative learning, and enjoyment can be used as indicators, results would suggest the class experiment was a success.

AP Physics is one of 14 advanced placement courses offered at De Smet Jesuit where students can earn college credit. Others include World History, Psychology, and Spanish 5. To learn more about the rocket launch or our physics program, please contact Joe Feld. For information about additional AP classes where students can earn college credit, please see our Curriculum Guide or contact Chris Williams, Assistant Principal for Academics.

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