MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Paper Helicopters: Variables and Experimental Design

Paper Helicopters: Variables and Experimental Design

Nichol Reilly, Stadium View School, Minneapolis, MN
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Summary

This activity is an experimental investigation (requiring very few materials: Paper, paper clips or other materials to be used as weights, markers) in which students use paper helicopters to examine types of variables and how to manipulate variables in experimental design.

Learning Goals

1. The student will distinguish between scientific evidence and personal opinion. (IA1, grade 6) 2. The student will distinguish among observation, prediction, and inference. (IB1, grade 6) 3. The student will know that scientific investigations involve the common elements of systematic observations, the careful collection of relevant evidence, logical reasoning and innovation in developing hypotheses and explanations. (IB1, grade 8)

Context for Use

This activity has been used with a mixed level class in a juvenile detention setting. It was used as an introduction to experimental design. In this capacity, the activity took approximately 60 minutes (we did not do the full laboratory write-up in this time). I am currently using this as an independent activity to introduce or review types of variables (depending on students' prior knowledge). I pair this with a bit of research about variables, discussion with the teacher, and reflection questions. In this capacity, it usually takes students 2 or 3 60-minute class periods. The activity could also be used as a quick review of experimental design in the beginning of the year. The rigor and time spent on this activity could be altered depending on prior knowledge of students.

Subject: Physics
Resource Type: Activities:Lab Activity, Classroom Activity
Grade Level: Middle (6-8)

Description and Teaching Materials

Students will construct a paper helicopter (directions can be found online: paper helicopter). Paper, marker, paper clips or other means of weight to add to helicopter.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Depending on the prior knowledge of students, it may be best to review vocabulary and experimental design. Depending on the level of students, it may be helpful to list all possible variables as a class and discuss independent and dependent variables and variables to hold constant. Many students don't know how to make a paper helicopter (directions can be found online: paper helicopter), so it may be helpful to post directions, demonstrate, or develop a flow map for this purpose. In my experience, even students that have been reluctant to engage in science enjoyed this activity, and this has been a fun way for students to learn about variables. It is also very cheap and easy to set up and requires no dangerous materials (which is always an issue in my class)!

Assessment

Informal: student questions, student discussion, student response to questions posed by the teacher and justification for answers/responses Formal: student laboratory write-up of experimental design and results

Standards

1. The student will distinguish between scientific evidence and personal opinion. (IA1, grade 6)
2. The student will distinguish among observation, prediction, and inference. (IB1, grade 6)
3. The student will know that scientific investigations involve the common elements of systematic observations, the careful collection of relevant evidence, logical reasoning and innovation in developing hypotheses and explanations. (IB1, grade 8)

References and Resources

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