K-12 Program Soars, Powered by SAFE Grant

Lisa Damian is a physics teacher at Camden Hills Regional High School, near Rockport, Maine. She was the recipient of the first SAFE K-12 Classroom Teacher Grant for 2013 and used the grant to purchase the supplies needed to build rockets (tubes, balsa wood, nosecones, etc.) and engines for her 11th and 12th grade honors physics class to use in their model rocket construction and testing. 

She learned about the SAFE grant competition through a colleague who saw the announcement and passed it along to her. About 30 to 40 percent of her 45 to 50 students are girls. All students are working at the honors level, and did the actual model rocket construction at home with fine tuning in the classroom. The grant allowed Mrs. Damian to purchase enough supplies so that each student was able to construct their own model rocket, rather than in the past where they worked in small groups of three or four. 

This project progressed over the early months of 2014, with first launch coming in January during a “thaw.” 

Mrs. Damian used her experience from participating in a two-week workshop at NASA to prepare a detailed, integrated lesson plan, with collaboration from a colleague, John Fitzgerald, a math/calculus teacher at Camden Hills. They integrated the aerodynamic concepts with the math/calculus concepts in the lesson plan, which is open and available publically at the CK-12 Modeling and Simulation for High School Teachers, http://www.ck12.org/book/CK-12-Modeling. There is a wealth of information for teachers. Her lesson plan is contained in Chapter 8 and titled “Flight Fidelity – Engineering with Practical Mathematics.” 

Linda Langrill


Here’s Lisa’s report:

“My original lesson plan for this project involved students working in groups of three to construct rockets within a three-week, capstone project. Your funding, however, permitted me to modify that plan to instead create an opportunity for each student to work individually, within a year-long project, to build two iterations of self-designed model rockets equipped with solid-propellant engines. Each student researched, designed, built and analyzed model rockets with specific criteria and constraints, employing the engineering design process.Maine students rockets_2

“As students worked to perfect their design, they were asked to apply increasingly complex principles of physics – perfectly aligned to the content that was being covered in class – to understand how and why their rockets flew as they did. The project culminated with students using a spreadsheet-based numerical simulator to solve a 2nd order differential equation that accurately accounted for the changing forces that were affecting their rockets’ motion. Students used the simulator to determine their rockets’ drag coefficient, based on their rockets’ measured maximum height.

“All students were able to successfully utilize all aspects of the Engineering Design Process to build and launch both a standard rocket and two iterations of their individually designed rockets. Students then built a “final version” of their rocket, which was launched and used in the motion analysis portion of the project, including measuring the maximum height of the rocket through a 2-point reference system, and calculating values of the changing forces that were affecting the rocket. All students were introduced to and became comfortable with the logic and functioning of the spreadsheet simulator, and were able to use the simulator to estimate their rockets’ drag coefficient.

Maine students rockets_1

“This project was able to engage my senior students right up through the middle of May – an impressive outcome for students who quickly lose motivation once they realize that graduation day is fast approaching! Students learned so much – and they had FUN doing so. Thank you for your contribution!”Maine students rockets_4



Full lesson plans can be found at:


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