The purpose of this activity is for students to gather some baseline information, make one variable and test the results, make another variable and test the results, choose a paper plane design that they believe will fly the farthest and test the results, graph the longest and average distances flown for each of paper plane trails.
1. Make and fly a paper airplane.
2. Work cooperatively with a partner in collecting data.
3. Be introduced to the terms hypothesis, variable, and average.
4. Follow directions in making a complex paper plane design.
5. Organize and graph data collected.
Older students may write-up experimental procedures, results, and conclusions.
Most elementary students do not have a good grasp of the scientific method or how to set-up an experiment, collect data, test a hypothesis, or organize the information after an experiment. Children can do real science by asking simple ‘what it questions’ that can be tested. for example my son, David, wondered what type of popcorn popped best. We eat a lot of popcorn and friends often give us special types of seeds to try. Using one hundred seeds of six types of popcorn and a hot air popper he tested the seeds and graphed the results. The amount popped varied from 65% to 97% for the six types tested. The experiment was written up and used in his school science fair. The best part of the experiment was its simple uniqueness. It tested an idea and was not a copy from a book of experiments already tried.
Activities and Procedures:
To test your paper airplanes a space at least 60 feet long is needed. The school cafeteria, gym, multipurpose room, or a long hallway will work. The planes are made to be flown, but only during the measured trials. A couple rules are needed. Students flying planes not during the trials will lose their opportunity to fly that day. Students must have a partner to collect the data.
1. Students all make the same design paper airplane. The design should be simple to make and fly well.
2. Each student will be given five trials to fly his/her plane. The flight distance will be measured in decimeters and called out by the teacher. The student’s partner will record the distance for each trial. After the five trials the student will organize the data from shortest flight to longest flight. The flight in the middle will be the average, median, distance. Data sheets will be kept in a folder for each student until the experiment is completed.
3. Using the same airplane design students will repeat the procedure using a paper clip on the end of the plane. This will be the one variable tested.
4. Using the same airplane design students will make flaps at the back of the plane. Flaps are made by cutting four slits on the rear edge of the wings and folding the slotted portion up. The plane is tested as before.
5. Using a set of photocopied designs or paper airplane kits students will pick and construct the design which they think will go the farthest. Data will be collected using the same methods as previous trials.
6. Each type of plane will be assigned a color for graphing. Using two sheets of 100 square paper students will horizontally graph the results of the longest flight and average flight for each type of plane; plain paper, paper clip, flaps, and experimental. (Other variations may be tried such as 14 inch paper versus 11 inch or various weights of paper could be used from onion skin to construction paper.)
Teacher materials include a simple proven airplane design and plans or kits for experimental airplane. The White Wing Kits are on the market from Eddie Bauer and there are several books on paper airplanes. The school library/media center should be able to provide references. Two ten meter tapes, paper clips, graph paper, and scissors should also be on hand.
Type of plane ____________________________ (ie. paper clip plane)
Trial 1 __________
Trial 2 __________
Trial 3 __________
Trial 4 __________
Trial 5 __________
Shortest trial ______________
Longest trial __________________
Average (**) __________________
Tying It All Together:
After the graphs are finished, they should be displayed with the data sheets. Review the scientific process. Review what was tested and what was changed for each series of flights. See how the predictions of the longest flying experimental design turned out. Using the graphs check if one design was always the farthest flying. Check the graphs to see if one variable made a difference in distance for the majority of planes and discuss why it did not work for all planes. Students should be able to outline other things which could be tested.
This can be a fun activity. Making planes once a week can make the project last four to five weeks. The activity provides several opportunities for cross curriculum activities in the ares of social studies (transportation, history of light, impact of flight on our society) and language arts (report writing and creative writing) It is simple to do and enjoyable if one can endure a little chaos during the flight trials.
Author: Steve McCombs Ft. Greely School Delta Junction, AK
Grade Level: 2-6