I brought work home to do during summer vacation and all of it has been sitting in the same spot for almost the entire summer. I would totally call it procrastination, except I’ve actually been pretty busy. But now there’s not much time left. Instead of going through the boxes of supplies and lessons by myself, I am going to share what’s in my boxes with you until I’m finished reorganizing them for this school year.

If you want your students to learn the third law of motion, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, then you may want to give the Pop Can Hero Engine a try.


Basically, you have your students poke holes into an aluminum can, tie a string to the pop tab, submerge the can in a bucket of water, pull the can out by the string, and watch the can spin around. If engineered correctly, the water should come out of the holes in the same direction which should cause the can to spin in the opposite direction. I recommend printing out the lesson from NASA.

Pop Can Hero Engine Lesson


Also, I have put together a short instructional video so you can see exactly how this experiment works.

Pop Can Hero Engine Video


Why is it called a Hero Engine? Well, check out this short Prezi for a quick overview on the history of the Hero Engine. I use this Prezi to introduce my students to this lesson.

Pop Can Hero Engine Prezi



1. I like to have my students work in groups of 3 for this project.

2. Students are assigned jobs – supply officer, engineer, and data recorder.

  • The supply officer is responsible for getting supplies and putting them away.  It is imperative that the supply officer put the nail away immediately after the holes have been poked in the can.
  • The engineer uses the supplies and decisions of the group to put the holes in the can and prepare it for the experiment.
  • The data recorder must fill out the student worksheet for the group when it is his/her turn.  The student worksheet is part of the NASA lesson plan.
  • Students rotate jobs.  They make at least four Pop Can Hero Engines during this lesson.

3. Bring lots of towels. Remind students to keep the Pop Can Hero Engine in the bucket as it spins around. There should be a consequence for any group that allows the Pop Can Hero Engine to come out of the bucket while spinning around. We don’t want to waste water and if you are working inside a classroom you don’t need a watery mess.

4. I will be sending a short note home this year asking families to donate supplies for the rocketry unit. You can download the note and make it your own.

Rocketry Supply Letter


5. To add some variety to this lesson, I made a video that shows the third law of motion using aerial acrobatics. You can use it in your classroom too.

Aerial Acrobatics 3rd Law of Motion

3rd Law Video-007

About misslittleowl

A teacher writing about local happenings, school adventures, intriguing books, desert gardening, and whatever else she stumbles upon that needs sharing.
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