Angles and Altitudes - Lesson Plan

Grades 9-12 | 5 (45 min) classes

Topics Covered

Measuring Altitude | Trigonometry | Model Rocket Engines

Essential Question

How do different methods of measuring altitude compare in terms of accuracy and practicality in the context of model rocketry?
Angles and Altitudes Lesson Plan Header


In this lesson, students explore the fascinating domains of altimetry and rocketry, using three different tools for measuring altitude: their eyes, the analog Mini AltiTrak, which employs trigonometry calculations, and the digital altimeter, a device affixed to the rocket that records its peak altitude. Through hands-on experiments, students will use these instruments in tandem with rockets to compare the altitude readings of each tool. This comparison will offer valuable insights into the precision, advantages, and limitations of each measurement method. By the lesson's end, students will have a more nuanced understanding of the balance between traditional analog and modern digital tools in the context of real-world applications.

The lesson suggests using 2 differently powered engines (A8-3 and B6-4) so students can compare the altitude measurements for each engine. The teacher can insert the engines into student rockets outside of class, so they do not know the identity of their engine before launching. This way they can use their data to draw conclusions about which engine they were given. Alternatively, teachers can also choose to show students which engines they have, and instead encourage them to justify and explain their altitude measurements compared to other groups with the same and different engines.

Note to Educators: This lesson caters to all experience levels but holds particular value for those new to the intricacies of rocket building. It is highly recommended that teachers construct a model rocket beforehand to better guide the students through each step. Having a concrete example in the classroom can illuminate the process and offer insights into challenges your students may face. Enjoy your expedition into the dynamic world of rocket science!


Each Student Needs:

  • Safety Goggles
  • Student Portfolio

Each Classroom Needs:


Next Generation Science Standards Logo


Students who demonstrate understanding can analyze data to support the claim that Newton’s second law of motion describes the mathematical relationship among the net force on a macroscopic object, its mass, and its acceleration.


Students who demonstrate understanding can use mathematical representations to support the claim that the total momentum of a system of objects is conserved when there is no net force on the system.


Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem, based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, as well as potential social, cultural, and environmental impacts.


Planning and Carrying Out Investigations


Analyzing and Interpreting Data

Common Core State Standards Initiative Logo

Common Core Standards - Math


Represent data with plots on the real number line (dot plots, histograms, and box plots).


Interpret differences in shape, center, and spread in the context of the data sets, accounting for possible effects of extreme data points (outliers).

Common Core Standards - ELA


Follow precisely a complex multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks, analyzing the specific results based on explanations in the text.


Translate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text into visual form (e.g., a table or chart) and translate information expressed visually or mathematically (e.g., in an equation) into words.


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A device that measures altitude, the height above a reference level, typically the Earth's surface.

Mini AltiTrak

A gravity protractor used to determine the height of a rocket flight from the angle of the user’s body to the apogee of the rocket flight.


The vertical distance or height above a reference point, often the Earth's surface.


The highest point in the trajectory of a projectile, such as a rocket, or the point in an orbit farthest from the Earth.

Engine Thrust

The force generated by a rocket's engine to propel it upwards.

Gravity, g

Force attracting a body toward the center of the earth or another mass.

Height, h

Vertical distance from a base level, such as ground or sea level, to an object or point above it.


In trigonometry, the ratio of the length of the opposite side to the length of the adjacent side of a right-angled triangle, often used in calculating angles and heights.


A branch of mathematics dealing with the relationships between the sides and angles of triangles, used in this context for height estimation.

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