A WebQuest for Middle Schoolers who are interested in Rocketry, History, and Reading

Designed by

Lauren Johnson     Laureeennn@aol.com
  Jeff Kruger             jk47272@appstate.edu 
       Chandra Patton       snowbunnieasu@yahoo.com


Introduction | Task | Process | Evaluation | Conclusion | Credits


   Here's what it's all about. There's this tiny 1950's town called Coalwood. In Coalwood, coal mining is life. The men work in the black mines of the West Virginia earth, and the women stay home and pray that they arrive home safely for dinner. Homer Hickam is a son of a coal miner who desperately wants to make something of himself and go to college. However, the chance of that happening is slim to none. Homer is awfully afraid that his only future is working in the coal mines like his father. Homer's father has achieved a supervisor's position, and loves the mines more than life. Although Homer thinks he will be depressed and stuck in the coal mines forever, the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, goes into orbit in October 1957 and changes Homer Hickam's vision forever. This cool bit of technology with the space world encourages Homer to attempt to build his own rocket. He and his three friends, including the nerdy genius of Big Creek high, go about the painstaking job of rocket building. Sadly enough, every one in Coalwood belittles the attempts and laughs it off as a childish boy's dream. Mrs. Riley, however, the local history teacher, believes in the boys and informs them of the national science fair, which rewards college scholarships as the prize. With this goal in mind, the four boys begin the journey, literally to the stars. 

  The Task

   History Section

Before reviewing the movie, a few points concerning the history of the film should be understood. Few Americans considered the gathering on Friday, October 4th , 1957, at the Soviet Union's Embassy in Washington, DC, to be anything out of the ordinary. However, to a remarkable degree, the Soviet announcement that evening changed the course of the Cold War. October 5th, 1957 Sputnik was launched. The Space Race had begun. 

Ideas to help you with history: 

1. Have a jigsaw history lesson. You and your friends make groups and assign yourselves an aspect of this time frame to research. One group, for example, could research Sputnik, and the history surrounding the event and the preparation. Another group could research various aspects of the cold war. A remaining group could research the history of NASA. Make visuals and present to the rest of the class. 

2. Watch the movie and focus on key points of life in the 1950's such as clothing, music, school, sports, cars, etc. 

3. Research the life of Homer Hickam, who graduated college and became an engineer for NASA. You can even contact Homer Hickam  HERE!

4. Who was Warner Von Braun and what did he accomplish? This is very important.

English Section
October Sky is an excellent way to learn about the many steps that it may take to achieve a goal. Homer's idea of building rockets starts as simply a dream, then he brings in the other boys, even approaching Quentin, the school nerd. The gang first approaches rocketry as a test, then as a challenge to defy expectations, and only much later as their entry to the state science fair.  Think about the importance of incremental steps in your lives. Understand that all dreams require persistence. A baby-step approach has a basis in all walks of life, academic and otherwise.

Homer's hero is Warner Von Braun, who inspires him throughout his rocketry experiments in Coalwood. Focus on a personal hero of your own and write about them and how your hero has encouraged you through a difficult time. 
After the viewing of the movie, you guys could read Hickamís book, Rocket Boys. The paperback edition of the book now carries the more familiar movie title. Take a look at www.bigcreekowls.org/rocket.htm.  When viewing the movie, you'll notice differences between it and the book you have just read. Thatís because the movie is so Hollywood. Discuss with friends what is different and think about why Joe Johnston (director) and Lewis Colick (screenplay writer) may have made the changes.  Also discuss why Hollywood would make these changes in the first place.

Science Section 

Some ideas to help you: 
Research the components and parts of Sputnik. How does Sputnik differ from the rockets made today by NASA? www.hg.nasa.gov

Mrs. Riley, the inspirational history teacher in October Sky, fell ill with Hodgkin's disease. With today's technology, we know more about this disease than most did in the 1950's. Investigate the causes, symptoms, and treatments of Hodgkin's disease. 

Coal mining was a way of life for families in Homer Hickam's tiny town of Coalwood, West Virginia. Discuss with your friends the actual process of coal mining, uses of coal, and health risks associated with this profession.

The Process

Alright dudes and dudettes!  Ya'll ready to make this stuff come together now?  This is what I want you to do......

First get into three different groups.  Number off one, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, and so on.

Group One...You cool cats have the History Section

Group Two...You dogs have the English Section

Group Three...You chalupas have the Science Section

Want to know what you're supposed to do?  Sure you do!  Here it is...

Day one.  Watch the movie, duh. 

Day two.  All groups need to get together and do the tasks related to each section.  By doing this you all will receive a better understanding of that aspect of the movie.

Day three.  This is the most productive day.  Here you all will get together and have a discussion about the movie.  Each section ought to have a different angle with which to evaluate the movie.  But before the discussion begins the different section will provide an overview of what they have learned.
  Each section shall make a presentation and provide a visual that could include such things as a poster, a puppet, a skit, an object (examples could be a model of a rocket).
  After that your teacher will lead you all in discussion.

Have fun Dudes and Dudettes!!!


Here's how you will be evaluated.  First of all it should be understood that a project like this requires good participation.  The reason for that is that you all are situated in groups and everyone is needed for the group to be successful.

So the whole project is worth 100 points.  Here is how we break it down.

25 points is for watching the movie.  5 points is deducted each time for anyone who is not watching the movie.  For example, sleeping, talking to others, or playing video games is not allowed.

25 points is for participation in the task.  You are all participating in a group activity.  So staying on task is of utmost importance.  Your teacher will make deductions as he/she sees fit.

25 points is for the presentation.  Once again, your teacher will evaluate this and make the necessary deductions. 

25 points is for the class discussion.  This is the fun part.  Just participate and you'll do swell.  Deductions should only be made if the discussions are getting off subject or for behavior problems.


By now, you peeps should have learned a lot about the History, English, and Science - all wrapped into one great movie!  By doing this activity, you should have not only learned more about these particular subjects, but also how to work well with others. 

Credits & References

And we would like to acknowledge and thank the following websites for their most gracious help!

Last updated on August 15, 1999. Based on a template from The WebQuest Page