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Hands-on Activity: Flight of the Fruit: Weight, Gravity and Imagination

Quick Look

Grade Level: 2 (1-3)

Time Required: 4 hours 30 minutes

(45-minute periods over five days)

Expendable Cost/Group: US $5.00

(This activity also uses some reusable items such as a container or pool, a scale or balance, a play parachute, and rulers. See Materials list for more details.)

Group Size: 3

Activity Dependency: None

Subject Areas: Measurement, Physical Science

Image with a boy standing at the top of a slide in a wooden playground.  He is holding his parachute attached to a toy over the end of the wooden railing.
Testing out a parachute!
copyright
Copyright © Ashley Whitehead, University of Florida MRET

Summary

Testing a model parachute can tell us many things and help us learn about a variety of concepts, such as proportionate size and scale, gravity, air resistance, weight relationships. In this freeform activity about preventing free-falling, students design their own model parachutes while considering factors in their test drops such as distance, weight, and time.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Air resistance, mass, and gravity are concepts used by engineers to design parachutes and other technology such as rockets, airplanes, racecars, sports equipment, and more. Accounting for air resistance, or drag, is an important aspect of these designs.  As technology improves, engineers redesign inventions by changing materials or by redesigning a vehicle to take advantage of aerodynamic properties.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Explain the force of gravity.
  • Estimate and measure size differences that occur from a falling object.
  • Design and create a functioning parachute.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

NGSS Performance Expectation

K-2-ETS1-1. Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool. (Grades K - 2)

Do you agree with this alignment?

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This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Ask questions based on observations to find more information about the natural and/or designed world(s).

Alignment agreement:

Define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.

Alignment agreement:

A situation that people want to change or create can be approached as a problem to be solved through engineering.

Alignment agreement:

Asking questions, making observations, and gathering information are helpful in thinking about problems.

Alignment agreement:

Before beginning to design a solution, it is important to clearly understand the problem.

Alignment agreement:

NGSS Performance Expectation

K-2-ETS1-2. Develop a simple sketch, drawing, or physical model to illustrate how the shape of an object helps it function as needed to solve a given problem. (Grades K - 2)

Do you agree with this alignment?

Click to view other curriculum aligned to this Performance Expectation
This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Develop a simple model based on evidence to represent a proposed object or tool.

Alignment agreement:

Designs can be conveyed through sketches, drawings, or physical models. These representations are useful in communicating ideas for a problem's solutions to other people.

Alignment agreement:

The shape and stability of structures of natural and designed objects are related to their function(s).

Alignment agreement:

  • Participate in shared research and writing projects (e.g., read a number of books on a single topic to produce a report; record science observations). (Grade 2) More Details

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  • Students will develop an understanding of the characteristics and scope of technology. (Grades K - 12) More Details

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  • Students will develop an understanding of the core concepts of technology. (Grades K - 12) More Details

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  • Students will develop an understanding of the attributes of design. (Grades K - 12) More Details

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  • Students will develop an understanding of engineering design. (Grades K - 12) More Details

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  • Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences. (Grades K - 12) More Details

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  • Add drawings or other visual displays to descriptions when appropriate to clarify ideas, thoughts, and feelings. (Grade 1) More Details

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  • With guidance and support from adults, focus on a topic, respond to questions and suggestions from peers, and add details to strengthen writing as needed. (Grade 1) More Details

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  • Recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question. (Grade 2) More Details

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  • Describe measurable attributes of objects, such as length or weight. Describe several measurable attributes of a single object. (Grade K) More Details

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  • Organize, represent, and interpret data with up to three categories; ask and answer questions about the total number of data points, how many in each category, and how many more or less are in one category than in another. (Grade 1) More Details

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  • Demonstrate and describe the various ways that objects can move, such as in a straight line, zigzag, back-and-forth, round-and-round, fast, and slow. (Grade 1) More Details

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  • Raise questions about the natural world, investigate them in teams through free exploration and systematic observations, and generate appropriate explanations based on those explorations. (Grade 2) More Details

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  • Compare the observations made by different groups using the same tools. (Grade 2) More Details

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  • Recognize that objects are pulled toward the ground unless something holds them up. (Grade 2) More Details

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  • Explain how scientists alone or in groups are always investigating new ways to solve problems. (Grade 2) More Details

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Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

For the class to share:

  • large container or small kid-size pool (big enough for students to catch students’ pieces fruit)
  • flour (enough to fill container)
  • scale or balance (that measures in both ounces and grams)
  • video recording device
  • stacking weights
  • book: How Parachutes Work, available online
  • play parachute, available online
  • sticky notes
  • craft materials such as:
    • magazine clippings, graphic organizer, googly eyes, permanent markers, paint, glue, yarn, etc.
  • parachute design materials
    • tissue paper, napkins, construction paper, tape, newspaper, paper towels, plastic bags, string, glue, etc.

Each group needs:

  • piece of fruit
  • ruler
  • stopwatch
  • small index card

Each student needs:

Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/uof-2308-flight-fruit-weight-gravity-imagination] to print or download.

Introduction/Motivation

(By this age, most children are aware of size differences. This is a good way to open this lesson.)

Have any of you ever held a big watermelon or a big pumpkin?  What did it feel like?  Was it hard or easy to carry?  How about a blueberry or a grape?  Are those easy or hard to carry?  If you were to drop an apple on the floor would it make as big of an impact as say, a grape?

In this activity, we are going to drop some fruit, measure its impact, drop some more fruit, and then design a parachute to help a “fruit character” survive a fall! Designing a parachute is a fun way to help us learn more about scientific ideas such as gravity, aerodynamics, and air resistance. Let’s get started!

Procedure

Background

The purpose of this activity is to explore that everything in nature is a specific size for a reason. Additionally, there are forces, human-made and in nature, that act upon the objects.  Students put these observations into a context with a folktale from Turkey about why pumpkins grow on vines and walnuts grow on trees. They collect data on the size and weights of various fruits. Students then work in teams to create their own fairy tale that involves falling fruit and design parachutes to test out on their selected fruit. Students learn about measurement, the engineering design process, and data collection.

Gravity is a force created by one object that draws other objects toward its center. The force with which gravity pulls objects is the same regardless of the objects mass. The parachute is a simple piece of technology with the purpose of slowing down fast-moving objects (and often people) being pulled to the ground by gravity. Engineers thoroughly test the materials and designs of parachutes to make sure they are strong enough to tolerate the air resistance needed to work successfully. The wide, flat expanse of fabric catches the air, causing air resistance or drag, and opposes (pulls against) the direction that the object is moving, and slows it down. Parachutes are used by a wide range of individuals and organizations, including for military use, in emergencies, and for recreation.  
 

Day 1

Before the Activity:

With the Students:

If possible, take students outside to an open area with trees. Have them take their science notebooks and pencils. Once seated, discuss the following question: Why do you think some fruit grows on trees and some grow on vines or bushes?

Read the folktale from Turkey, Pumpkin Trees And Walnut Vines using pictures.

  1. Ask the following questions:
    1. How do we know if the size of something is serving its purpose?
    2. When is bigger or smaller better?
    3. What did Hojda learn about the size of the walnut?
  2. The word scale can be used to represent sizes and how different sizes should relate to each other. Have students consider the following questions: Should an apple be bigger than a house? (Answer: No. That is out of scale.)  Have students think of their own examples of things being out of scale and then ask them to create a silly picture from their ideas.
  3. Provide students with drawing materials, magazine clippings, and other craft supplies.
  4. Afterwards, have an art walk among the class to admire all the silly pictures. In science notebook, students can write or draw the reason things are a certain size.

Day 2

Before the Activity:

  • Gather materials: container, flour, fruit, science notebooks, scale, stacking weights, measurement, small index cards, and stopwatch.
  • Select a safe place from which the students can drop the fruit.
  • Set up container with flour and place it at the bottom of the location where students drop their fruit.

With the Students:

  1. Review what ‘scale’ is from the Day 1 Introduction. Explain that students are going to learn a different meaning of scale. Show students a scale and ask the class what they think its purpose is. Show class how to use it by demonstrating using the stacking weights. (Ask for volunteers, if appropriate.)
  2. Show students a variety of fruit and explain that they are going to work in teams and choose a fruit to study. Give teams time to discuss which piece of fruit to choose. Assist students as needed. Once teams have chosen fruit have students draw the scale, caption the drawing with its purpose, and draw and label fruit they have chosen. Explain that engineers take careful notes to document their experiments.
  3. While students are recording in their notebooks, call each team up to use the scale to weigh their fruit with each unit of measurement.  Have students record the weight of the fruit in their notebook too.

Ask students:

    • Why do you think that the weights are different?
    • Which unit of measurement is smaller or larger?
    • Why do engineers and other scientists measure objects and people?
  1. Tell the class that they are about to be a part of an exciting scientific inquiry about the impact of falling fruit. Explain that they are going to get to go outside and drop their fruit from a tall structure, like the walnut that fell from the tree in the story Pumpkin Trees And Walnut Vines. Review the story from yesterday. 
    • What would happen if pumpkins fell from trees? 
    • How would the impact of a pumpkin falling from a tree be different than the impact of a walnut falling from a tree?
    • Do you think the impact of your fruit might be different from a walnut or pumpkin or the other groups fruit?

*Optional: Have students write a short prediction or hypothesis in their science notebooks about what they expect to happen when they drop their fruit and how it might compare to the other fruits.

  1. Have one student drop fruit from top of a raised location (such as on top of a playground). Have a pair of teammates use a digital timer to record how much time it takes for the fruit to hit the ground, and the other pair of teammates record the depth of the impact using a ruler. On an index card, label the impact “crater” with the team name.
  2. While other students are dropping their fruit, have remaining students carefully document their observations and data collection (time of fall and depth of crater).
  3. Once all teams have gone, discuss observations:
    • Why do things fall to the ground?
    • Did heavier things fall faster? Why not?
    • What made the biggest impact and why?
    • How could we change how fast the fruit falls?

Day 3

Before the Activity

  • Gather materials: book: How Parachutes Work, play parachute, science notebook, and sticky notes.

With the Students:

  1. Have students sit in teams and provide each team with a small stack of sticky notes. Let them know they are going to work together to gather scientific research on parachutes. Taking turns, have each student write one thing they already know, or think they know, about parachutes. This can be a drawing, a purpose, description, etc. Have students stick their notes to board or chart paper. Challenge students to group similar notes together.
  2. Take students outside with the play parachute and choose one of the parachute games that can be found on this list of parachute games. (Other games are available online via a Google search.)

Ask students:

    • Why it is important to work in a team?
    • What traits did they notice about the parachute?
  1. Take class back inside and read the book, How Do Parachutes Work? Explain key parts you know, especially those that relate to the function and design of the parachute and how engineers contributed to that.
  2. After reading, ask students if they have anything else they would like to add to the list of information about parachutes. If so, provide more sticky notes for them to add to their notes.
  3. In their science notebooks, have students draw a detailed picture of parachute and label its parts. Remind students that engineers take careful notes to document their research for their experiments. Let them know to save their notes for use in later activities.

Day 4

Before the Activity

  • Gather materials:  fruit**, paper and graphic organizer to create a fruit character, googly eyes, permanent markers or paint, glue, yarn, other objects that could be used as facial features.

With the Students:

  1. Review data from falling fruit investigation. Tell students they are going to create a make-believe story about their fruit. In the story, their fruit character needs to have a name, character traits, and a reason to need a parachute. You might want to provide students with graphic organizers for brainstorming and narrative writing. You can also model any part of the process for them, as needed. Give students time to brainstorm and discuss their ideas with one another.
  2. Once students have a plan for their fruit character and its story, they can work on writing their story and transforming their fruit into their story’s character.
  3. As students finish, they can begin brainstorming ideas to design a parachute that is the correct size and supports their fruit.

** You may wish to spray the fruit with adhesive glue or hairspray to prevent it from getting too ripe too quickly.

Day 5

Before the Activity

  • Gather materials: fruit characters, Parachute Rubric, materials for parachutes such as tissue paper, napkins, construction paper, tape, newspaper, paper towels, plastic bags, string, glue, etc.

With the Students:

  1. Review the diagram of a standard parachute with its three main components: canopy, strings (suspension line), and load. Demonstrate how to construct a basic parachute with an emphasis on securing the strings to the four corners.
  2. Students re-weigh their fruit and record weight in their notebook and then work as a team to brainstorm ideas to create a parachute. Then, in their own journals, students draw out their plan for their parachute. As a team, they work together to construct their parachute and test it in the classroom. Each time they test it, they are to annotate any changes needed to make to their diagram in their science journals.

Day 6

Before the Activity

  • Gather materials: Fruit characters with parachutes, container with flour, science notebook, video recording device, Parachute Rubric, and stopwatch.

With the Students:

  1. Drop day! Get students ready to test their parachutes.***
  2. Take class outside and repeat the investigation from Day 2. Before students launch, have them present the name of their fruit, reason for needing a parachute, and explain design choices for their parachute. Be sure to video this and the fruit falling.

***If the parachute does not work, support students for their participation in the process and ask them to evaluate why it didn’t work. Remind them that this can also happen to engineers when think they have a solution. However, when they take it out for testing, they learn that their prototype didn’t work how they thought it would. Then engineers get to rethink, redesign, and try again.

  1. Have students compare their data from Day 2 to this investigation.
    • Did the parachute work?
    • Did it lessen the impact of the fall? How do you know?
    • What would you do differently?
  1. Activity closing: Review/Discuss key concepts with the students:

Ask students:

    • What is scale and how does it relate to the size of things in the world around us?
    • How did the rate of speed change once the parachutes were attached to their piece of fruit? Why?
    • What did you learn about how engineers complete projects?

Image of a teacher standing at a counter in a science lab with two young students helping them create parachutes out of black plastic bags and string. The lab table is has supplies on it such as clipboards, paper, pens, tape and safety goggles.
Students building their parachute prototypes.
copyright
Copyright © Ashley Whitehead, University of Florida MRET

Vocabulary/Definitions

air resistance: The force air exerts, or applies, against a moving object.

gravity: The force that exists between any two objects; the force of attraction by which objects fall toward the center of the Earth.

impact: The action of one object coming forcibly into contact with another.

mass: A measure of how much matter something contains.

scale (object): A tool used for measuring and comparing weight; a balance.

scale (proportion): The representation, or idea, of the size of an object in relation to the objects and environment around it.

units of measurement: A type of measurement used for calculating the size, weight, amount, etc. of something.

Assessment

Pre-Activity Assessment

Chart: Conduct as a class the introduction with a Know/Learn T-chart and the Parachute Rubric.

Activity Embedded Assessment

Rubric: Use the Parachute Rubric and the science journal monitor student progress.

Post-Activity Assessment:

Assessment: Provide students with the age-appropriate post-assessment:

Activity Extensions

  • Engineer a launch to add a push force to the fruit and then test the effectiveness of the parachute
  • Using digital technology, have students create a presentation that includes their video, story, and results from testing their parachute. 
  • Take photographs of fruit characters and parachutes and make a class book.

Additional Multimedia Support

High 5 Team Building: a list of parachute games.

References

Koontz, Robin. “Parachutes, Gravity and Air Resistance.” 7 April 2014. Kids Discover. Accessed May 20, 2020. www.kidsdiscover.com/teacherresources/parachutes-gravity-air-resistance/.

Turner, Grahame. “What Are Parachutes Used for Today?”. 24 Apr. 2017. Sciencing. accessed May 20, 2020. sciencing.com/parachutes-used-today-7450870.html.

Copyright

© 2020 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2019 University of Florida

Contributors

Ashley Whitehead

Supporting Program

Multidisciplinary Research Experiences for Teachers of Elementary Grades, Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, University of Florida

Acknowledgements

This curriculum was based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under RET grant no. EEC 1711543— Engineering for Biology: Multidisciplinary Research Experiences for Teachers in Elementary Grades (MRET) through the College of Engineering at the University of Florida. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Last modified: June 16, 2020

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