How Do Paper Airplanes Fly?

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1 West Ashley Intermediate School Charleston, South Carolina Summer 2004 Research Host: Charles Hossler Dr. Carolyn Jenkins Medical University of South Carolina Lesson # 10

2 Appropriate citation: Herron, A. How DO Paper Airplanes Fly? (APS Archive of Teaching Resources Item #8564). [Online]. Bethesda, MD: American Physiological Society, Editor s notes: Website URLs listed in this resource were current as of publication, but may now be obsolete. If you know of a replacement URL, please suggest it in the resource s Comments section. Disclaimer: This activity was created by the author and reviewed by the American Physiological Society. Any interpretations, statements, or conclusions in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of either the American Physiological Society or the funding agencies supporting the professional development program in which the author participated. Frontiers in Physiology The American Physiological Society Permission is granted for workshop/classroom use with appropriate citation

3 Teacher Section The purpose is to introduce students to forces and motions of objects through experimental design using paper airplanes. The concepts taught include drag, lift, thrust, gravity, and aerodynamics. Upon completion of this activity, students will be able to: Explain how drag, lift, thrust, and gravity affect the motion of a paper airplane. Measure distances using the metric system. Graph and record data in metric units distance vs. time. Plan and conduct an investigation using inquiry and process skills. Record data and develop a conclusion from their data. This lesson is designed for students in 5th grade. K-12: Unifying Science Concepts & Processes Evidence, models and explanations Change, constancy, and measurement Five-seven class periods Grades 5-8 Science as Inquiry: Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry Understandings about scientific inquiry Physical Science: Motions and forces Science and Technology: Understanding about science and technology Science in Personal and Social Perspectives: Science and technology in society History and Nature of Science: Nature of science Most students have usually have some type of experience with paper airplanes, but it is not necessary.

4 Teacher Section Cooperative, hands-on, and inquiry-based learning are emphasized in this lesson. The lesson is first guided by student's exploration with the materials provided. Students will be able to build paper airplanes with any of the materials they choose and observe the flight results. After exploration time is provided students will be brought back together as a class for a discussion about their observations and new ideas about how paper airplanes fly. From this discussion and a given exploration time with paper airplanes the students can be creative and discover new ideas about how paper airplanes fly. The lesson begins with teacher led inquiry; open inquiry directed by the student's creativity will take place as they make observations during experimentation. Students will have the opportunity to work individually, in pairs, and/or in groups. Students will be allotted time to carry out their own investigations and answer their own questions that they developed through observation. Students will be encouraged to discuss their findings in groups and then to present to the class. You may want to encourage gender grouping in which girls work together as partners and boys work together as partners. Often boys have more background experience with building airplanes and if they are paired with girls they tend to do all of the work. Also some students may be experts in the field of building airplanes. You can have these students help those with less experience who are having difficulty getting started. You can also challenge these students to try to build several different types of paper airplanes in order to see which design flies the best. This unit allows for the incorporation of a research-based project on role models in aviation. Some role models in aviation and airplane development are Bessie Coleman, Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, Charles Kingsford Smith, Tuskegee Airmen, Chuck Yeager, and the Wright Brothers. The major issue concerning safety in this lesson is the amount of space allowed for students to investigate the flight of their airplanes. Students will be expected at times to work individually, in pairs, and in groups. Before beginning the unit, discuss behavior expectations in the science classroom. Also explain to the students that no testing will be done until the class goes to the cafeteria or where there is a larger open area. Airplanes are not to be thrown at each other. Groups will be assigned a designated area in the cafeteria to work and test the flight of the airplane. All groups should be throwing in the same direction so that no paper airplane interferes with the flight of another plane.

5 Teacher Section Construction paper, lined notebook paper, computer paper, index cards of different sizes, clear tape, masking tape, metal paperclips, plastic paperclips, clothespins, masking tape, clear tape, duct tape (Note: The more materials, the better since students will have the opportunity to test a number of different types of airplanes.) There is not a lot of preparation for this lesson. Just make sure you have an ample amount of materials. The students will make various different paper airplanes in order to investigate which variables help and hinder the flight of the plane. Make sure that you have spoken to the appropriate authorities to see if you can use the cafeteria or gym to test the paper airplanes. You may want to do some research on paper airplane design. See the References & Resources section for web sites about paper airplanes. Day One Engage students by explaining to them that over the next couple of days they will be building different types of paper airplanes to learn about what factors influence their flight. Go over safety rules and discuss when students will be able to test their paper airplanes. No flying should take place in the classroom since there is not adequate space. Introduce the students to the materials that they will be allowed to use to build their paper airplanes. Have students write in their science notebooks which materials they would like to use to build their first airplane and have them give an explanation as to why they think these will be the best materials to use. Before students begin building their paper airplanes make sure they have included a data table to record length of flight and any other observations they notice about the flight of the paper airplane. Remind students that they should test their paper airplane at least three times. Give students enough time to build paper airplanes using the materials they requested in their written plans and predictions. Test the students first set of paper airplanes and have them measure the distance of each flight. They should record distance of flight along with any other observations in their data table. After the students have tested their paper airplanes, have them reflect upon the flight of their airplane, why they believe if flew the way it did, what changes they want to make and why, and what they want to keep the same and why.

6 Teacher Section Day Two/ Day 3 (this part may take two days) Begin the lesson by having the students reflect upon what they had observed and learned from their first set of paper airplanes (what made the paper airplanes fly well, what made them not fly well). Begin discussing the importance of testing for one variable. The teacher will pose a question for all groups to test. The question is: Will the number of paperclips on a paper airplane affect the distance of the flight? Discuss whether this is a testable question. Have students make predictions in their notebook about the number of paperclips and how it/they will affect the distance of the flight. Allow the students to share their predictions within their groups. Next, identify the manipulated, responding, and constant variables. Manipulated Variable- the number of paper clips Responding Variable- the distance the paper airplane flies Constant Variables- thrower, location of test (inside/outside), thrust, type of paper airplane is made from, follow same directions to make airplane except for paperclips, starting point of thrust As a class develop a plan to investigate the question listed above. Ask the students for different ideas about how to record the data. Make sure that students understand each type of airplane must be tested at least three times. Give students time to make paper airplanes and test. Each flight must be measured and recorded. When students are finished with their trials have them reflect upon their observations in a conclusion. Have students record any "I wonder questions" that they would like to answer through more investigation. Day 3/Day 4 (this part may take two days) Note: Have a backup plan in case the Internet is not working at your school on the day of this activity. Begin by having students discuss their observations from the previous investigation in a small group. Did the number of paperclips affect the way the paper airplanes flew? Why do you think the groups observed what they did? Open the discussion up to the class. Make sure students use evidence to support what they are saying during the discussion. Have the students participate in an Internet Info Search to learn about the four forces that affect how a paper airplane flies. Have students evaluate the websites for validity and usefulness and summarize what they have learned. Students can do this as individuals or in pairs. Have them discuss the websites in pairs when they are finished with their search. Have them reflect in their science notebooks about what they have learned. Have them go back to their two previous experiences with paper airplanes and describe the flight of the airplane using the terms drag, lift, thrust, and gravity. You also want your students to develop an understanding of what the term aerodynamics means.

7 Teacher Section Day 4/Day 5 Begin the lesson discussing what the students learned from their Internet research. It is important that at this point students understand the terms force, drag, lift, gravity, thrust, and aerodynamics. Talk about each force and how it affects the flight of a paper airplane. Tell the students that today they will be working with a partner to investigate one of their "I wonder questions". They will be responsible for writing an investigable question and prediction based on prior knowledge. They will have to identify the manipulated, responding, and constant variables. Together, partners will come up with a procedure in order to test their question. Along with the procedure, students will be responsible for recording their data and analyzing their data in order to write a conclusion. Before they can begin any type of building of the airplane, students must get their procedure approved by the teacher. The planning of the investigation should take one whole science class period. A second day will be needed to build the paper airplanes and to collect data. In the conclusion, students should describe how the airplanes flew using the terms force, thrust, gravity, drag, lift, and aerodynamics. The following are examples of questions about paper airplanes that your students may want to investigate: Will the type of paper affect the flight of the paper airplane? Will the type of tape used to hold the wings together affect the flight of the airplane? Which will fly better, a plane with short wings or a plane with long wings? Which will make the plane fly better, a strong thrust or a soft thrust? Day 6 Day 6 will be used as a day for partners to present what they have learned about paper airplanes. Each set of partners will make a poster with the key elements from their investigation (question, prediction, variables, procedure, data log/observations, and conclusion). Each set of partners will present to the class what they have learned about how paper airplanes fly. Each set of partners will show the actual paper airplanes to the class while presenting. During the presentation partners must use the vocabulary terms they have learned about forces in their discussion (force, drag, gravity, lift, thrust, and aerodynamics).

8 Teacher Section Day 7 Day 7 is the culminating day for students to illustrate what they have learned about how paper airplanes fly. Students will design their final airplane to fly in a class contest. Each student will write a plan of what materials they would like to use for their paper airplane and why. They should be using the new terms about forces in their description. Each student will be able to test his or her final airplane three times and measure the distance. There will be two class winners, the student who makes the airplane fly the farthest and the student whose flight is most improved from Day 1. What is a force? What is drag? Is drag a push or a pull? Is drag good for the paper airplane? Explain. What is lift? What are some things that affect the lift of a paper airplane? Is lift a push or a pull? What is gravity? Is gravity a push or a pull? How does gravity affect the flight of a paper airplane? Does the amount of gravity change on earth from day to day? What is thrust? Is thrust a push or a pull? What does the thrust of the paper airplane depend on? How does the thrust of the paper airplane affect its flight? What does it mean if a paper airplane is aerodynamic? What affect does being aerodynamic have on a paper airplane? What are some materials that you have used to make a paper airplane that have had a positive effect on the airplane s flight? What is your evidence? Why do you think this happened? What are some materials that you have used to make a paper airplane that have had a negative effect on the airplane s flight? What is your evidence? Why do you think this happened?

9 Teacher Section Responses to Internet Info Search Development of investigation with question, prediction, variables, procedure, data log, and conclusion Written description of how a paper airplane flies using the new science terms force, thrust, gravity, drag, lift, and aerodynamics Poster session in which groups present what they learned from their investigation Final flight of airplane: did they improve from their initial flight, were they able to describe the movement of the paper airplane using the concepts of force, thrust, drag, gravity, lift, and aerodynamics Students can investigate the history of the airplane, who invented it, and what forces are similar between a paper airplane and a real airplane. Students will take their basic learning of the four forces; gravity, thrust, lift, and drag to determine how its design and the forces that acts upon it affect the movement of a car. Students will design roller coasters with the knowledge they have about forces and Newton's Laws of Motion. They will design a roller coaster with requirements given by teacher. Local museums may have exhibits on aviation, thrust, lift, drag, and/or gravity. Local pilot training facilities may have a flight simulator. Invite a local pilot to be a guest speaker. Speak to local pilots about the Young Eagles Program. "Exploratorium Magazine Online" ( "How Things Fly" ( "Forces Acting on an Airplane" ( "The Four Forces of Flight" ( "Airplanes and Forces" ( "The Federal Aviation Administration" (

10 Teacher Section The following Internet web sites have helpful information on paper airplane design methods Background Information for Teachers: The four forces that determine how a paper airplane flies are drag, gravity, lift and thrust. A force is a push or pull. Drag occurs when a paper airplane has too much extra stuff on it. Drag causes the paper airplane to push surrounding air causing air resistance. Too much drag on an airplane is not good and will bring the airplane to the ground. Gravity is the force that pulls the paper airplane to the ground. The amount of gravity does not change on earth. It is a constant force on earth that pulls all objects to the ground. Thrust is the forward movement of the airplane. The thrust is determined by the how hard the thrower pushes the airplane. Too hard of a thrust is not good for the paper airplane because it will take a direct nosedive to the ground. Lift is when the air pushing up underneath the wings is stronger than the air pushing down on the wings. If a paper airplane is aerodynamic it means that it has round, curved edges and the plane is narrow.

11 Student Section This web search will help you find out about the forces that affect how a paper airplane flies. You will be looking at pre-selected web sites to answer each question. It is important to find the information at the site as well as to consider who wrote the site, what their purpose is in writing it, and how credible (accurate) you think the information is. 1. How does lift affect a paper airplane? Web Site URL Site 1: Site 2: edu/lift.html Who created this web site? Why did they create it? (check all that apply) To provide factual information To provide factual inform ation How credible (accurate) do you think the info is? What did you learn?

12 Student Section This web search will help you find out about the forces that affect how a paper airplane flies. You will be looking at pre-selected web sites to answer each question. It is important to find the information at the site as well as to consider who wrote the site, what their purpose is in writing it, and how credible (accurate) you think the information is. 2. How does drag affect a paper airplane? Web Site URL Site 1: Site 2: edu/drag.html Who created this web site? Why did they create it? (check all that apply) To provide factual information To provide factual inform ation How credible (accurate) do you think the info is? What did you learn?

13 Student Section This web search will help you find out about the forces that affect how a paper airplane flies. You will be looking at pre-selected web sites to answer each question. It is important to find the information at the site as well as to consider who wrote the site, what their purpose is in writing it, and how credible (accurate) you think the information is. 3. How does gravity affect a paper airplane? Web Site URL Site 1: Site 2: us/grade4science/timw.html resource/forcefl.htm Who created this web site? Why did they create it? (check all that apply) To provide factual information To provide factual inform ation How credible (accurate) do you think the info is? What did you learn?

14 Student Section This web search will help you find out about the forces that affect how a paper airplane flies. You will be looking at pre-selected web sites to answer each question. It is important to find the information at the site as well as to consider who wrote the site, what their purpose is in writing it, and how credible (accurate) you think the information is. 4. How does thrust affect a paper airplane? Web Site URL Site 1: Site 2: us/grade4science/timw.html ligmandj/airplanes_and_forces.htm Who created this web site? Why did they create it? (check all that apply) To provide factual information To provide factual inform ation How credible (accurate) do you think the info is? What did you learn?

15 Student Section For student-planned investigation Indicator Question Organization Prediction Procedure Question is investigable. Question is clear and concise. Only one variable is being tested and students are aware of what variables must be held constant. Student has developed a consistent method of record keeping that accounts for the manipulated variable that is being tested for its affect on paper airplane. Notebook shows evidence of verbal descriptors that convey what investigator thinks will happen in experiment with support from prior knowledge. Notebook shows evidence of student recognition of procedure to carry out experiment. Question is investigable. Student is trying to test for one variable, how ever is not sure of all variables that must be held constant. Record keeping includes all aspects but is not presented in a consistent manner. Notebook shows evidence of verbal descriptors but meaning of prediction is not clear. It is still supported with prior knowledge. Notes reflect a procedure but may be missing information regarding one step. Question is investigable. Student mentions variables, but has no firm understanding of what is being tested and what has to be controlled. Record keeping is haphazard and some elements are missing. Notebook shows that prediction may be missing some verbal descriptors and meaning is not always clear. Prediction is not supported with prior knowledge. Notes reflect a procedure but several steps are missing. Question is not investigable within the resources available. Record keeping is haphazard and many elements are missing. Many verbal descriptors are missing in prediction and those given are not clear. Prediction is not supported with prior knowledge. No evidence regarding procedure.

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