Today we were learning about how seeds can be distributed (a Mystery Science lesson) which culminated in testing out paper seed designs such as gliders and spinners. The aim was to drop your seed and record which design avoided ended up in a marked out ‘zone of darkness’. The boys were captivated with this activity and extended it independently into paper plane modelling, trying out different designs, adding decorations and adaptations, then test flying them down the corridor.
Many people aren’t aware that they did any engineering while they where children. Yet I suspect almost everyone will have at some point made paper aeroplanes, This is engineering, believe it or not. You may have been shown a basic design by a friend, then adapted it, tested it, competed against each other to increase range, stability or speed, even tested it to failing point (how fast can it smash into a wall before it crumples?).
You can encourage this naturally appealing activity with kids by a little directed questioning to draw out their ideas and extend their vocabulary : “what material are you using there? Craft paper? Cool – do you want to try some different types of paper?”; “you have lovely wide wings there, you’re getting a nice slow floating flight – I wonder what would happen if you make them narrower?”. You could ask your child to predict what might happen with each adaptation.
This simple game of making planes can grow with your child as they age and develop different skills. For younger children, it will be enough
just to show them how to fold basic darts and help out if it’s a bit tricky for little fingers to make folds in the paper, providing extra materials if they want them. Encourage them to play, to make ones that don’t work as well as ones that do, to decorate them, have fun inventing stories and adventures for their planes.
For older kids you could embed writing skills by setting up a design refinement sheet where they make a note of each change, write a prediction, test it, then record the result in terms of stability of flight and distance travelled. To add in some numeracy you could, for example, suggest increasing wing width in set increments, for example 2cm at a time, record the distance travelled, then produce a line graph of the two.
Here are some resources to give you ideas for getting started and extending this activity:
Boston Children’s Museum Blog has a good starting point page.
The BBC show Bang Goes the Theory has a printable page with fold lines drawn on it if you’re not sure where to start.
Teach Engineering has a more detailed lesson plan, including key vocabulary.
There are even tutorials on YouTube showing how to make extraordinary planes such as this Star Wars Tie Fighter.
NB this post is not sponsored. Risks are minimum, but exercise common sense. I recommend using https://kids.youtube.com to search for videos to show kids as it makes searching for appropriate material easier.