Action stations

3rd October 2003 at 01:00
Ultimate Rocket Kit. By David Eckold. Dorling Kindersley pound;24.99.

Ultimate Rocket Kit is the latest in the DK series of hands-on science kits, which includes Ultimate Robot and Robot Warrior. It enables you to build and launch model rockets which are powered by a pneumatic "rocket engine". The kit contains all the necessary equipment, including reusable engines, a launchpad, space capsules and even stick-on planets to go on the ceiling. The rockets are launched with a simple but effective air pump, so they can be safely used indoors.

Ultimate Rocket Kit is very cleverly designed and well produced, as you would expect from Dorling Kindersley. It's much more than a pre-assembled "shoot and go" model rocket that you might find in your local toy store.

The kit takes you through four distinct missions, each requiring a separate rocket to be made with added levels of sophistication. These include launching a "space shuttle" paper glider from the side of the rocket, firing a space capsule into outer space - or at least on to the ceiling - and even launching a mini space station. With considerable ingenuity, the kit lets you build simple working models that replicate these complex rocket missions.

So does Ultimate Rocket Kit successfully achieve its mission? Well, this really depends on the enthusiasm and concentration of the junior astronauts concerned. It gets you building nearly everything with paper and card, the air pump being the only pre-assembled component. The construction is very fiddly and requires a lot of care, needing at least 45 minutes of supervised construction to get the first model ready for flight.

The kit will work well with key stage 2 children when helped by an adult, but is clearly intended for home use rather than for the classroom. KS3 pupils will be better able to construct the rockets unaided and to understand the underlying science, but will be less impressed by the relatively simple flights they can achieve. For teachers running a junior rocket club with pupils who are enthusiastic model builders, Ultimate Rocket Kit could just hit the target.

Paul Sellin is a lecturer and schools liaison officer in the department of physics at Surrey University

An 8-page supplement celebrating World Space Week can be found in the centre pages of this week's issue of TES Teacher

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