After a discussion about what a parachute is and how it works, students create parachutes using different materials that they think will work best. They test their designs, and then contribute to a class discussion (and possible journal writing) to report which paper materials worked best.
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 Standard Network (ASN), a project of JES & Co. (www.jesandco.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.
Click on the standard groupings to explore this hierarchy as it applies to this document.
- Common Core State Standards for Mathematics: Math
- 4. Know the formulas for the area and circumference of a circle and use them to solve problems; give an informal derivation of the relationship between the circumference and area of a circle. (Grade 7)  ...show
- 1. Construct and interpret scatter plots for bivariate measurement data to investigate patterns of association between two quantities. Describe patterns such as clustering, outliers, positive or negative association, linear association, and nonlinear association. (Grade 8)  ...show
- International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
- F. New products and systems can be developed to solve problems or to help do things that could not be done without the help of technology. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- Q. Malfunctions of any part of a system may affect the function and quality of the system. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- V. Controls are mechanisms or particular steps that people perform using information about the system that causes systems to change. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- C. Many inventions and innovations have evolved using slow and methodical processes of tests and refinements. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- G. Brainstorming is a group problem-solving design process in which each person in the group presents his or her ideas in an open forum. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- H. Modeling, testing, evaluating, and modifying are used to transform ideas into practical solutions. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- H. Apply a design process to solve problems in and beyond the laboratory-classroom. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- Massachusetts: Science
- 2.5 Explain how such design features as size, shape, weight, function, and cost limitations would affect the construction of a given prototype. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- 2.4 Identify appropriate materials, tools, and machines needed to construct a prototype of a given engineering design. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- 2.3 Describe and explain the purpose of a given prototype. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- 1.1 Given a design task, identify appropriate materials (e.g., wood, paper, plastic, aggregates, ceramics, metals, solvents, adhesives) based on specific properties and characteristics (e.g., weight, strength, hardness, and flexibility). (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- Next Generation Science Standards: Science
- Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- Techniques for designing a parachute that falls slowly.
- How to determine which type of material works best by testing different options.
- How air resistance plays a role in flying.
- tissue paper
- construction paper
- paper towels
- weights (such as washers)
With the Students
- Gather materials.
- Discuss with the class what a parachute is and how it works.
- Have student teams brainstorm characteristics of a good parachute, document their thoughts and sketch their design before construction begins.
- Cut a circle (or other shape) from the chosen paper. Make a hole in the center of the shape.
- Cut six pieces of equal length string and tape them at equal distances around the edge of the shape.
- Tape the other ends of the string to a weight.
- Test the parachute. Go outside and drop it from a specific height to see if it flies slowly and lands gently. Record your observations.
- As time permits, repeat the process, modifying the variables of canopy material and shape. Record your observations.
- Lead a class discussion to compare results and draw conclusions.
- Assign students to recap their findings as a written journal entry that documents their design details and results, and answers the Investigating Questions..
- Direct students to calculate the area of their parachutes (A=πr2). Create a graph on the board showing area vs. drop time. Then, as a class, discuss how the area of the parachute affects its flight.
- What type of paper is the best material to make a parachute? Why?
- What materials did not work well? Why?
- What changes could you make to improve your design?
© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2005 Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, Tufts University
Last modified: October 5, 2015