Paper Airplanes & The Four Forces of Flight Lesson
This is part 5 of a 5 part hands-on unit on Floating & Flying. Have fun while creating various types of paper airplanes in order to examine the relationship between plane design and the four forces of flight! My lessons are geared toward 4th-5th grade level children and their siblings. These are lessons I created to do with a weekly homeschool co-op which meets for 2 1/2 hours. We have 33 children between the ages of 1-13. Use these fun lessons with your classroom, family, after school class, camp, or co-op!
Please DO NOT copy this elsewhere without giving proper credit: http://iijuan12.hubpages.com/hub/using-paper-planes-to-teach-the-four-forces-of-flight .
(Some photos on this page were taken by one of the mothers in our co-op who operates Michelle Harrison Photography.)
Four Forces of Flight
1. Pray. Read & discuss Psalm 55:6-8, 22.
2. Review what we have learned so far. Ask children what 4 forces act upon an aircraft (lift, gravity, thrust, and drag). The opposing forces balance each other. Ask, “What equals out thrust?” (drag) Ask, “What equals out gravity?” (lift). Tell the children that we will now study the force of lift = the upward force that is created by the movement of air above and below a wing. Air flows faster above the wing and slower below the wing, creating a difference in pressure that tends to keep an airplane flying. Lift is created by the shape of the wing, which makes the air pressure above the plane’s wing less than the pressure below. This causes the plane to lift upward. When the lift is greater than gravity, the plane goes up. We will now see how the design of the airplane affects the lift.
A book you could use as an entire lesson plan
I have taught this lesson twice. The second time I taught it, I added in many of the activities straight from this book. It leads children to use various paper plane designs to explore vertical and horizontal stabilizers, center of gravity, and more. This is a great book that talks about the physics behind how different shapes and weight placement affect how a paper airplane flies, and it gives directions on how to test each of the designs. You read a bit, test out a design, read more, test out another design, etc.
Lift and Paper Planes
3. Have each child construct the two different designs of basic paper airplanes. Have them write their names on their planes. Ask them to first hypothesize which design they think will be able to stay in the air the longest and why. Find a spot indoors (the hallway, the side room, the kitchen, etc.). Have the children "pilots" stand along a "starting line" and then have fly their design #1 plane all at the same time. You, the teacher/parent, will time the flight time from release to when the last plane stops. Record the time. Now have the children "pilots" stand along a "starting line" and then have fly their design #2 plane all at the same time. You, the teacher/parent, will time the flight time from release to when the last plane stops. Record the time. Discuss, "How does the design of the airplane affect the lift? What features of the plane kept it aloft the longest? What features of the plane kept the plane from staying aloft? How does this activity show how a plane stays aloft?"
TEACHER/FAMILY 1: YOU WILL NEED: 2 8-1/2 x 11 sheets of paper for each child, a stopwatch, writing utensil, & paper
4. We will now compare a third design of an airplane, observing the four forces of flight. The loops cause enough lift to keep the plane in the air. As it descends, the top part of the loop catches the air and helps the plane stay aloft.
5. Give the materials and have them first construct the loop plane by following the directions found at coolscienceexperiments.com. The straw acts as the plane's fuselage. Allow children to experiment with the plane. Have them observe the similarities and differences in both flight and design compared with the paper planes.
6. Ask, "How is this plane similar to your first two models? How are they different? How do lift, thrust, drag, and gravity affect this plane? Have you ever seen an airplane that is similar in design to the loop plane?"
TEACHER/FAMILY 2: YOU WILL NEED: For each child: 8-1/2 x 8-1/2" paper, scotch tape, and one straw
Great Books on Paper Planes
This has great directions that are easily followed and includes sheets of paper so that each plane can be made twice.
This provided directions that were easy enough for some of the youngest kids to follow, but even the older children found this one helpful.
7. Next we will become aircraft engineers and will determine how the design of an airplane affects its ability to perform stunts. This activity uses Bernoulli's principle of lift. The shape of the wing (airfoil) causes air to move faster over the top of the wing. The faster the air moves, the less the air presses down on the wing. Because the wing is flat on the bottom, the air pressure is greater under the wing. This creates lift. We studied Bernoulli's principle of lift two weeks ago when we tried to blow out a candle around the flat side and the curved side of an apple and also when we used the vacuum cleaner and beach ball.
8. Give each group paper, paperclips, tape, books with design ideas, and scissors, and tell them that they need to design airplanes that can perform stunts. Have the groups work together to design planes that will successfully perform the following stunts: flying straight, diving, banking left, banking right, climbing, boomeranging, looping, and doing a double loop. Let the children test the designs and make modifications if necessary.
TEACHER/FAMILY 3: YOU WILL NEED: sheets of 8-1/2 x 11" paper, scissors, scotch tape, paperclips, and design patterns
9. After the children have had some time to attempt the designs, go outside and go through each stunt. Have a volunteer from any team who successfully designed a plane that could perform that specific stunt demonstrate it for the entire group. Ask the children what aspect of the airplane design enabled it to perform that stunt.
10. After all the stunts have been demonstrated, ask, "How does the design of an airplane affect its ability to perform stunts? Was there more than one design that could complete the same stunt? Which design was affected most by gravity? Drag? Did the amount of thrust affect the way your airplanes flew? What happens when drag becomes greater than lift?
11. Review what we learned today: Name the 4 forces of flight. What is the center of gravity? How does an elevator or horizontal stabilizer help a plane in flight? How does a rudder or vertical stabilizer help a plane in flight? Which design was affected most by gravity? Drag? What happens when drag becomes greater than lift? Did the amount of thrust affect the way your airplanes flew? How does the design of an airplane affect its ability to perform stunts? What was your favorite activity from today? [Ask each child that question.]
12. Tell the children that they can go home and make many more models of airplanes and experiment with designs. You can throw your models in different ways and at different angles. Tonight have a plane contest with your family. Have everyone design their favorite model and see whose model can fly the fastest or the longest. See whose plan can make the most loops. Have fun with it and keep experimenting!
13. Immediately following this lesson the children presented on famous ships and planes, and then we had a ship-and-plane-themed lunch.
Some Options for Stunt Planes
More Great Books
This is great! It goes through various types of airplanes (one for each letter of the alphabet) and gives a brief explanation about each plane. My 3, 5, and 9 year olds all loved this book. Also look for "The Jet Alphabet Book" by the same author.
This discusses how various things work. We checked this out of the library so many times that we finally just bought it, and I'm glad we did. My 5 year old really enjoyed the silly parts about how a mammoth inspired the development of flight, and my 9 year old learned a lot about how planes actually work from the factual section.
Want to see the other lessons?
Build an aluminum foil barge that can hold the most pennies, experiment with what floats and sinks and why, create working models of various ships and a submarine, design and build a variety of airplane and parachute models, and more during this 5 part hands-on unit study on floating and flying.
- Buoyancy and Floating Lesson Plan - This is part 1 of a 5 part hands-on unit study on Floating & Flying (Fluid Mechanics). This week's focus is buoyancy (floating). Build an aluminum foil barge that can hold the most pennies, experiment with what floats and sinks and why, explore the relationship between density and buoyancy, and more!
- Floating Ships and Boats Lesson - This is part 2 of a 5 part hands-on unit study on Floating & Flying (Fluid Mechanics). This week's focus is ships and boats. Create working models of sailboats, submarines, and hovercrafts, test out jet power, examine the impact of density of liquids and surface tension on floating, and more!
- Air Pressure and Aeronautics Lesson - This is part 3 of a 5 part hands-on unit study on Floating & Flying. Discover the properties and power of air as you watch as air pressure blows up a balloon, sucks an egg into a bottle, collapses a can, holds water in an upside-down glass, and more!
- History and Forces of Flight Lesson - This is part 4 of a 5 part hands-on unit study on Floating & Flying. Learn about the history of flight from the time of the Greeks through present day. Design and redesign foam fliers, balloon jets, parachutes, drag-chutes, and more as you examine the four forces of flight!
- Paper Airplanes & The Four Forces of Flight Lesson - This is part 5 of a 5 part hands-on unit on Floating & Flying. Have fun while creating various types of paper airplanes in order to examine the relationship between plane design and the four forces of flight!
- Floating and Flying Unit Presentations and Field Trip Ideas – This is the culminating activity for the five part hands-on unit on Floating & Flying. The children made ship and plane-themed dishes (recipes are included) and presented on famous planes or ships. Also included is where we went for field trips during this unit.
Would you like to teach this way every day?
I use Konos Curriculum as a springboard from which to plan my lessons. It's a wonderful Christian curriculum and was created by moms with active children!
If you're new to homeschooling or in need of some fresh guidance, I highly recommend Konos' HomeSchoolMentor.com program! Watch videos on-line of what to do each day and how to teach it in this great hands-on format!
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