« Back to main page

Bolt Catcher

In this module students explore energy, motion, and engineering design as they work to create a bolt catcher — a device used to absorb energy from bolts during the separation of a space shuttle from booster rockets. In the design challenge, students design a model of a bolt catcher by attaching a box to a moving object and modifying the inside of the box so it can efficiently absorb impact while minimizing the distance the device travels during its rebound. Throughout the design challenge, students engage in the engineering design process and develop an understanding of key science ideas related to speed, energy, and transfer of energy during collisions.

NGSS addressed by this module:
3-5-ETS1-2   3-5-ETS1-3   4PS3-1   4-PS3-3

Grade Band: 4-6

Download the Lessons

Entire Unit: Bolt Catcher
DAYS 1–10: Bolt Catcher Teacher Handbook Download

DAYS 1 & 2: What is Engineering?
Students research various engineering careers and present their findings to their classmates. Download

DAYs 3 & 4: Why Space Shuttles Need Bolt Catchers
Students are introduced to the design problem. They learn that space shuttles need to have bolt catchers to absorb the energy transferred to the space shuttle when the space shuttle separates from the booster. Students develop and revise models to explain the energy and motion involved in the separation event. Download

DAYS 5 & 6: Design a Bolt Catcher to Absorb Energy
Students begin to design their impact reduction boxes (bolt catchers). After creating a blueprint for their device, students generate models to show the changes in energy taking place in their bolt catchers. Download

DAYS 7, 8 & 9: Materials Selection, Building, and Testing
Students select and use their preferred materials to reduce the effect of force on their bolt catchers and minimize the distance they move on impact. They then build, test, and optimize their bolt catchers. Download

DAY 10: Final Presentation
Student teams present a synopsis of the learning that has occurred throughout the module. Team presentations include a description of the project in students’ own words, an explanation of the science concepts being applied (speed and energy), how the team improved on their design, and how their product could be applied in other real-life applications. Download


The materials created by this collaboration were taught by the authoring teachers in Puget Sound and Houston and in 2015, a second group of teachers taught the lessons and provided feedback to improve the modules. As part of a second iteration of the modules, the senior science editor at Teaching Channel worked with Achieve to integrate the teachers’ feedback while more closely aligning the modules to The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) call for significant shifts in the way science is taught and learned. In 2016, a panel of science experts from around the country convened for a two day training with Achieve to learn how to incorporate the Educators Evaluating the Quality of Instructional Products (EQuiP) Rubric for Science. As part of the iterative process of improvement, the expert reviewers then completed an EQuIP Rubric for each module. Teaching Channel's senior science editor combined the reviewers input to create a third iteration of the modules that promotes a close alignment to standards while honoring the original expertise of the authoring teachers and engineers.


Partners at the Institute for Science and Math Education at the University of Washington and Educate Texas were instrumental in teacher recruitment and the necessary training for this initiative.