Paper Plane science - testing

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TITLE: Paper Airplane Science

AUTHOR: Steve McCombs, Ft. Greely School,

Delta Junction, AK



OVERVIEW: 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.


PURPOSE: 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


4. Follow directions in making a complex paper plane


5. Organize and graph data collected.


Older students may write-up experimental procedures,

results, and conclusions.


RESOURCES/MATERIALS: 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.




Name ____________________________

Date __________________


Type of plane ____________________________ (ie. paper clip



Distance flown:


Trial 1 __________

Trial 2 __________

Trial 3 __________

Trial 4 __________

Trial 5 __________


Shortest trial ______________

Next __________________

**Next __________________

Next __________________

Longest trial __________________

Average (**) __________________


Other information:






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.)



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.


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