The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Paper Airplane Science

With just eleven days to go, we have started our last science unit for the year: force and motion. The students did some early prep work with these concepts last Thursday while I was gone for the day by rolling marbles down inclined planes of different heights and recording the distance. I reviewed these concepts today and then started them on our first project of the unit: designing and testing paper airplanes.

Each student was given a large sheet of plain white paper and one simple direction: design and construct a paper airplane that would be tested against everyone else’s airplanes. The students had fifteen minutes to make their planes, then we cleared desks out of the way, marked off the starting space and measured out distances in increments of ten feet, and tested the planes on after another. Some of the airplanes were very traditional designs while others were quite unique. Because I had not given any restrictions on design, a few students wadded their papers in a ball and threw them that way. (These made it over twenty-one feet!) The distance traveled in the classroom varied from  as little as three and a half feet to as great as twenty-four feet, which was the distance from the starting line to the wall. Two students both made it the length of the room, so we took their planes to the gym to test with a greater distance to decide whose paper airplane could fly the furthest. Of course, using the gym meant that we had to adjust for factors such as the large overhead fans, but through a series of trials we were able to determine who had the winning design.

After lunch the two fourth grade classes came together and we kept them outside to design airplanes again. This time, though, they had to think about environmental factors such as wind when designing. After a twenty-minute design and construction period, we lined all of the students up and did three test flights to determine whose planes could go the greatest distance.

Oddly enough, the winning design for the outdoor trials was the most unconventional paper airplane design: the student wadded his paper up into a ball! All of the paper airplanes did quite well and my fourth grade teaching partner and I were pleased with the number of students who tried, even if they had never made a paper airplane before! There were a few who complained and said it couldn’t be done, but they were in the minority; most took to the challenge with gusto and perseverance!

Tomorrow we will examine the forces in play when a paper airplane takes flight before starting our next force and motion project, which is one I have been looking forward to for several months now!


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