Investigating Flight with Paper Airplanes
Students will experiment with different styles of paper airplanes, create questions to test and design experiments that will allow them to gather data related to their question. They will record their data, using graphs where appropriate, and present their findings to the class using their evidence to support their thinking.
Context for Use
Resource Type: Activities:Field Activity, Classroom Activity
Special Interest: Quantitative, Field-Based Teaching and Learning
Grade Level: Intermediate (3-5)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Enhancing your Teaching:Teaching in the Field
Description and Teaching Materials
You also need a supply of different sizes and weights of paper, paper clips or other small objects to add for weight distribution, and assorted items that students may request for their experiments.
You may provide a data collection sheet, or allow students to determine how to record their data.
Introduction: Bring in your prepared paper airplane and toss it across the room. Ask students to offer ideas about what makes it fly and what could cause it to fly in a different way.
Introduce the idea of variable and constant if students do not know what they are. Guide discussion so students understand that there are many variables that could affect the plane's flight.
Objective: Students will work with team mates to choose a question about the flight of the paper airplane that they can test.
Break students into work groups and have them consider a variable to test. If they need help tell them to consider "How does ______________CHANGE (this is the variable) the way the plane flies?" or "How can we make the plane fly____________(longer, loopier, faster....)? We will CHANGE (this is your variable)_________________." (Remember to change only ONE thing for each trial!) The group needs to determine how they will test their question and what tools they will need for measuring the data they want to collect. They will need to decide who will launch the plane, who will measure and who will record data. These roles can rotate for each trial if students wish. Make sure students write out their plan so there is a record of what they are planning to do and who will do what.
When the plan is complete, students may begin creating whatever is needed to test their question such as making different airplane models. Make sure they understand WHY only ONE variable can change and all other things must stay constant.
Students will conduct their experiments and gather data. They should conduct several trials (3 or 5) with each design change. (Why?) Record all measurements and find the average for each type of design change. Compare the data they have gathered and make a graph showing their findings. Then consider who and how they will present to the class. Their oral presentation should be based on the statement "We claim_________ and this is the evidence we found to support it__________. The team should be prepared to show their graphs and answer questions.
As closure, discuss why students think there are so many different paper airplane designs. (It depends what the flier is interested in: speed, durability, looping, turning, long flights, etc.)
Teaching Notes and Tips
In the past we have done the paper airplane experiment with more structure. Students were told we were looking for ways to make a plane that would fly the farthest. While many students may choose this as their experiment, I am expecting that others will be interested in what makes a plane loop, turn, dive, or move in some other way. Hopefully we will get a bigger picture of variables that affect flight with more choice about what to test.